- News on Sony hack is blacked out in China, says CNN’s Will Ripley
- U.S. government believes N. Korean hackers are launching attacks from China
- China’s shadowy PLA unit, coded 61398, could be responsible for cyber espionage
Beijing, China (CNN) — Censorship is a part of daily life in China. News articles are erased from online search engines, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are banned, and CNN is routinely blacked out for Chinese viewers.
Instagram was a huge hit in China — until the government banned it during the Hong Kong protests.
“All good things must end,” one young Chinese woman told me — seemingly resigned to the fact that she can no longer post photos on Instagram.
While such restrictions would likely incite mass outrage in many western countries, citizens in China seem to mostly accept to the fact that they relinquish a tremendous amount of freedom in exchange for living in this booming country.
North Korea hypes up hacking rhetoric
Chinese media censors Hong Kong protest
How censored are China’s journalists?
China’s Communist Party will do whatever it takes to stay in power. Censorship is just one tool — along with quickly quelling civil disobedience.
Of course, China feels like a utopia of liberty when compared with the repressive North Korean regime. I distinctly remember feeling a sense of freedom and relief when landing in Beijing after a recent visit to Pyongyang.
In the DPRK, the average citizen has never heard of the Internet or social media. Contact with the outside world is forbidden for all but the most elite members of this reclusive society. Propaganda rules the television airwaves and fills the pages of state-run newspapers.
Blackout in China
Considering all of this, I’m not sure why I was so surprised when I landed in China this week to find virtually all news coverage of the Sony hacking investigation blacked out.
The story received barely a mention on any of the state television channels or newspapers. A search for “North Korea” on China’s leading (and government-controlled) search engine Baidu.com reveals a list of mostly positive articles about the DPRK.
A Baidu search for “North Korea hack” reveals just one nearly two-week-old article naming the DPRK as “one of several suspects” in the Sony hacking investigation. An identical search on unrestricted Google found more than 36 million articles.
You’ll also find no mention of the U.S. government asking for a full investigation of North Korean hackers believed to be launching attacks from inside China — one of the few places where DPRK citizens can travel freely (with authorization from their government of course).
When questioned by foreign reporters on Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying shied away from directly addressing the issue on the Sony hacking probe.
“We need sufficient evidence before drawing any conclusion,” she said in a news conference, adding that the U.S. and North Korea should communicate.
Of course, any substantive communication is unlikely given the two countries have no diplomatic ties.
The Great Firewall of China
This is the reality of life behind the Great Firewall of China — officially known as the Golden Shield Project. China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has been heavily censoring content for more than a decade.
The Chinese government acknowledges that the Internet is a vital tool to support the country’s rapid economic growth.
Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba transactions totaled nearly $250 million last year, more than Amazon and eBay combined. Alibaba’s overall revenue soared 54% to over $2.7 billion in 2014. China e-commerce transactions are expected to skyrocket to more than $700 billion by 2017.
But with the Internet comes the risk of sharing information that, the Chinese government worries, could destabilize the country. In China, any threat to the Communist Party’s tightly clenched grip must be controlled.
It’s why you find no mention of North Korea’s bureau 121 in this nation suspected of having its own shadowy People’s Liberation Army (PLA) unit 61398 — believed to be responsible for cyber espionage. Incidentally, the Chinese military has also denounced the U.S. for having its own massive cyber-spying program.
As all of this continues to unfold, one thing is certain. International news organizations like CNN will continue with exhaustive coverage. And, thanks to heavy-handed government censors, the citizens of China and North Korea will remain mostly in the dark.
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