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China: Connected

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Apparently, figures have just been released showing that 591 million Chinese are now on-line. That’s an increase of+10% on last year’s figure. So, the Chinese are connected. Although, it certainly begs the question whether or not that serves any purpose when their access to internet sites is mainly blocked when not in line with party policy and thinking of the People’s Republic of China.

That means that today internet penetration has reached 44.1% in China (an increase from December 2012’s figure of42.1%). Although any figures that come out of China these days must be taken with a pinch of salt, it might seem. The figures were released by the China Network Information Centre (CNNIC).

The Chinese have not had access to TwitterFacebook, YouTube or Blogspot to name but a few since 2009.Wikileaks’ access was forbidden in 2010 and Google was banned from 2011. But the reason why those internet sites and social networks or search engines are actually blocked should perhaps not simply be put down to the reductive nature of Chinese ideology. It is not only because information might be found on those sites that would bring into question Chinese political thinking. It is also because China is using that as a means to protect its own developing industries in the sectors. Forbidding access to foreign sites is nothing more than tariff and trade barriers for the internet. Block it, create a competitor, force everybody to use it because nothing else is available and the domestic market is protected. At the same time, Chinese administration has absolutely no qualms as the western world rises in defense of human rights and freedom of access to information.  China has always been accused of being undemocratic. That’s nothing new. It’s water of a duck’s back, Peking duck, naturally with all the trimmings.

Anyhow, crying out in defense of the poor Chinese that have no access to Google, Facebook and Twitter might be completely wrong. At least the Chinese have not been participating in the Prism surveillance affair. Similarly, getting around the banning of certain sites is easy enough through a proxy or a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service. What do people think visiting tourists do when they go to China and want to access those sites? On-line identity will then appear to be in another country rather than in mainland China and you can surf the crest of the wave wherever you want. There are currently five VPNs that work in China and that aren’t blocked themselves. Perhaps we all should take a leaf out of the great Middle Kingdom (aka China) and start using VPNs too from the comfort of our own suburban homes that we once thought protected by failsafe security from the administration. Now, it seems that the danger is coming from within. We all pooh-poohed 1984 and Big Brother, but Orwell was right.


Sina Weibo

Some are suggesting even today that China may risk a revolution powered by internet and their own social-media networks (Sina Weibo, the country’s version of Twitter). It is already used by more than 30% of those that have internet access today, with 100 millionChinese Tweets posted every day. Although the possibility of igniting a revolution similar to the Arab Springs seems far from possible when we consider that all posts on such internet sites are vetted before being approved and posted. For example, this year posting “June 4th” was not possible (as a reminder of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests (or the June 4th Incident). There is an estimate that runs into tens of thousands that is suggested for the number of internet police currently making sure that what shouldn’t be posted gets banned.

China’s equivalent to Google is called Baidu. It was created in January 2000. It was ranked by Alexa Internet, Inc. (subsidiary of Amazon.com that ranks sites according to web-traffic data) in 5th position. It was the first Chinese company included in the NASDAQ 100. Yesterday, Baidu closed at +2.69% (up $2.84 to $108.53). Over the past 52 weeks the value of shares for Baidu has ranged between $82.98 and $134.71. It is the top search engine being used today in China. It’s hardly surprising that the Chinese administration have hidden behind their desire to block access to western sites, in a bid to launch their own ones. They have succeeded in doing so. While we have been blinded by the human-rights aspect of it all, China has veered off into another direction, creating serious competitors to our own search engines and social networks. They have the added bonus of imposing those competitors to our sites on the people. The people have had no alternative to buy home made goods. Made-in China is not just over here, it’s over there too.


Tmall

The same goes for serious competitors from China that are currently getting ready to overtake our own colossal giants such as Amazon.com. China’s retail market on line is worth an estimated $64 billionTmall is set (according to Euromonitor International) to overtake Amazon by 2016. That’s just a few years away. Sales will hit $100 billion within the next years according to estimates, while Amazon should be around the $94-billion mark. For on-line auctions, Tmall has already improved on eBay’s $27.7-billion sales (reaching $32.5 billion today). Tmall is still only in the early stages of development for the moment. They haven’t expanded overseas yet and they only operate in the domestic market. When they hit the overseas market, they will expand immensely. Amazon’s sales come mainly from foreign markets. Tmall only controls 12% of global internet sales (which come from within China). But, they are currently expanding into Taiwan and Hong Kong and the rest of us await. Yes, there may be reticence from the West regarding safety and security and health issues, but, we already eat, drink, play, wear, shod and use ‘made-in-China’ produce.

China’s internet connectedness is becoming stronger and stronger. They will soon overtake the big giants of the US and that is only a matter of a couple of years away.

Originally posted: China:Connected

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