For Immediate Release: July 17, 2001
Contact: Julie Shaw, 202-939-2211

 

China, Cuba, and the Internet Counterrevolution

New Working Paper Challenges Assumption that the
Internet Defies Authoritarian Control

A new Carnegie Endowment working paper finds that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the Internet does not necessarily spell the demise of authoritarian rule. Examining the cases of China and Cuba, Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor C. Boas, two Carnegie information revolution experts, show that authoritarian regimes can actually maintain control over the Internet?s political impact and benefit from the technology. Read the full text at: http://www.ceip.org/pubs.

The Internet and State Control in Authoritarian Regimes:
China, Cuba, and the Counterrevolution

Working Paper No. 21, by Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor C. Boas

Cuba and China represent two extremes of authoritarian Internet control: Cuba has sought to limit the medium?s political effects by carefully circumscribing access to the Internet, while China has promoted widespread access and relied on content filtering, monitoring, deterrence, and self-censorship. These choices of strategy reflect a more fundamental difference between the two regimes? levels of economic liberalization. China has promoted widespread Internet access to capitalize on the economic potential of a booming information sector and technologically savvy workforce, while Cuba, less committed to a market economy, has been willing to forgo some of the Internet?s potential economic benefits.

Kalathil and Boas show that China and Cuba, despite their strategy differences, have effectively limited use of the Internet to challenge the government. Beijing, for instance, has responded harshly to the Falun Gong?s use of the Internet with a series of technological measures, restrictive laws, and well-publicized crackdowns, making it more difficult for followers to communicate. Havana has carefully meted out access among civil society organizations according to their political orientation while dissident and human rights organizations have little hope of even gaining access. Both governments have also been successful in making extensive use of the Internet as a propaganda tool, partly by setting up their own web sites to disseminate the official government line.

In a field where scholarly work has only begun to tread, this working paper sets out a framework for analyzing the Internet strategies of different authoritarian regimes, and helps to shed light on the impact of the Internet on authoritarian rule in general.

Shanthi Kalathil, associate in the Information Revolution and World Politics Project at the Carnegie Endowment, has written extensively on Chinese market reforms and the political impact of the information revolution.

Taylor C. Boas, project associate in the Information Revolution and World Politics Project, has published several articles on the impact of the Internet in authoritarian regimes, with particular emphasis on Cuba.

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