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China's Leaders Have a New Watchdog: The Internet



OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

The Chinese Communist Party may finally have met its match—the Internet. The Internet is beginning to play the watchdog role in China that the press plays in the West. It is also eroding the leadership's monopoly on information, and is complicating the traditional policy of "nei jin wai song"—cracking down at home while pretending to foreigners to be wide open. Some 100 million Chinese now surf the Web; e-mail and Web chat rooms are ubiquitous. The authorities have arrested a growing number of Web dissidents, but there just aren't enough police to control the Internet. So where is China going? I think the Internet is hastening China along the same path that South Korea, Chile, and Taiwan pioneered: In each place, a booming economy nurtured a middle class, leading to better schools, more international contact, and a growing squeamishness about torturing dissidents. By giving its people broadband, the Chinese leadership is digging the Communist Party's grave.
—Nicholas D. Kristof [5/24/05]