The Arab Spring and China
In an Al-Jazeera article entitled “The Arab Spring’s Chinese Roots… And Future?,” Michael LeVine discusses the issue of human rights in the production of the technologies that made the Arab Spring possible. Most agree that the Arab Spring would not have happened without current communication devices and networks. People were able to organize like never before. LeVine says that “these ‘immaterial publics’ [technological networks] proved hard to police, and ultimately impossible censor or shut down.” But what about where these devices are made? Are those who made these devices and ultimately, the Arab Spring in its actual form, able to experience these same freedoms? No, they cannot.
The dismal state of Chinese labor laws as well as the even more appalling lack of enforcement is well documented. In the article, Ralph Litzinger notes:
“When we get all excited about the Arab uprisings but we don't really want to know who and what produces the things we're holding in our hands. We want to get on with the business of revolutions and to be constantly reminded of the way things are made? Heavy metal runoff into rivers and ground water, and harsh labour conditions, etc. That stuff stands in the way of the revolution, illuminating a fundamental contradiction that slows down its momentum. But the reality is that the technologies that we use are part of the global capitalist network, which means that ultimately the issues facing protesters in Cairo or Shenzhen are rooted in the same larger processes.”
And the Chinese government is terrified that the Chinese will utilize the same technology to bring about political change.
We recently discussed in class about media consumption and what affects it has on our communities, like supplanting other, possibly more meaningful, uses of time. I wished we had also discussed how our consumption of media fuels industries perpetuating human rights abuses. So often, we wonder how media consumption affects us personally and our immediate communities more broadly, but we do not often stop to think of the international human rights implications for our consumption of technology. It is incredible that several Arab countries have succeeded in bringing about political change, but will China be able to utilize the technologies that they make to foment political change? Or will they continue to produce technologies that make it possible for others to call for their own governments to respect their human rights? These global economic and political networks speak of a wider issue, one that we cannot ignore as we celebrate more democratically inclined Arab nations.