Arthur I. Cyr: Freedom to vote is fundamental, in Asia and globally
The dramatic presidential contest and outcome in the United States has distracted attention from important election developments elsewhere in the world, including Asia. In early November, the government of China intervened in Hong Kong affairs to ban two representatives from serving in the territory’s legislature.
The dissident young representatives, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wei-ching, in effect slapped Beijing in the face by putting on a demonstration for independence and inserting “Hong Kong Nation” into their oaths of office. This gave China’s government the opening to ban them from taking their seats because they diverged from the prescribed oath text.
Violent demonstrations and confrontations with police broke out, followed by orchestrated pro-government rallies. This is the latest challenge as China’s national government struggles to reconcile relatively open market economics with long-established political dictatorship.
In 1992, Deng Xiaoping opened China’s economy to private investment and market development with the declaration of “People’s Socialism.” In the years since, continuing tensions have developed as authorities strive to promote commerce yet control people.
Communist computer police are guided by on an ever-changing official list of banned language. The regime blocks Web sites that discuss the Dalai Lama, the Falun Gong religious movement and the violent suppression in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Since late 2010, there has been a restriction on searches of the English term “freedom.”
Google in that year withdrew search services from China, though research and sales personnel remained, and endeavors to handle search traffic from Hong Kong, a relatively more open environment until now. Cisco Systems was criticized for cooperating with Beijing in the “Great Firewall” censorship system. Microsoft in 2011 agreed with Baidu, the dominant Web search provider in China, to provide censored Bing search service.
By contrast, in 2012 the renowned National Palace Museum in Taiwan announced a partnership with Google to display art works online, providing comprehensive public access to one of the world’s great collections of masterpieces. One hundred fifty museums around the world are participating in the program.
This example has political as well as aesthetic significance. The National Palace Museum was established in 1925 in Beijing’s Forbidden City, comprised of the art collection of the imperial family. That collection along with precious books and artifacts was removed to escape the invasion by Japan, and reached Taiwan in 1948.
Today economic cooperation between mainland China and Taiwan grows unsteadily. Transportation accords in 2008 included direct shipping, expansion of weekly passenger flights from 36 to 108, and new cargo flights up to a maximum of 60 per month. In 2010 the comprehensive Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) took effect, and has survived Taiwan’s change in governing party.
Projection worldwide of the beautiful images in the National Palace Museum is a skillful way of encouraging cooperation. Joining in appreciation of great art opens doors to other forms of collaboration.
That virtual presentation symbolizes the degree to which the Internet and other media foster rich communication, of all kinds. In entertainment industries, the TV Emmys have risen in influence to rival the movie industry’s Academy Awards. Producing programs no longer requires the enormous capital infrastructure of the old-fashioned move studies.
For decades after China’s successful communist revolution, harsh regimentation characterized the regime. Today, electronic media can be censored and restricted, but not completely.
Time is on the side of freedom. China’s officials would have been wiser simply to ignore the young legislators’ dramatic display.
— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact email@example.com.