This is a guest post by Harry Peng who is a fellow student at the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China. I am very happy to have him share his views here and hope that it will make for some interesting discussion!
Unlike Tom, I am not exactly a ‘China Outsider’. I was born in a small town in Southern China called ChenZhou in Hunan Province. After 12 years of secondary education in China, I did not go to a normal Chinese university, but a British one instead. And there are many reasons for it. I have later studied International Business in United Kingdom and worked in United States as a junior graphic designer for a short time. Even though I have lived in Chinaland for around 21 years, I wouldn’t say I am a ‘China Insider’ either. Because both culturally and politically speaking, China is complex and sometimes confusing – even to its very own citizens. I am very glad that I can write my thoughts here together with Tom, who is a very smart person I met in my university. English is not my native language and I started to use English only 5 years ago, so drop me a line if what I wrote is confusing to you.
In response to the last post entry that Thomas Rippel wrote, I think we need more clarifications on the legal body who initiated this decision(to ban the illegal VoIP like Skype) – Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
I think most Chinese ‘Netizens’ are still familiar with the dramas and chaos between the 360 and Tencent QQ few months ago. Are you still wondering how this could even happen if the market is well-regulated!? Because the IT sector in China isn’t well-regulated (or it hasn’t been regulated at all)! MIIT is legal body which has direct supervision over Chinese cyberspace, but when it comes to China, everything can happen. There are NO anti-trust laws/regulations in this sector which prevent the market from heading to a wrong direction – in this case, unfair competition between 360 and QQ.
So what has MIIT actually ‘achieved’ in the past few years?
First and foremost, they spent 41 million RMB (approx. 4m euro) to purchase software called “Green Dam”, not to even mention the company which developed this software only bid for 20m in gov’t procurement. This means MIIT paid this company 20m more for this content-censor software. The software is believed to be a part of the state censorship and surveillance programme. This has (not surprisingly) triggered a overwhelming national debate on the MIIT’s intention regarding this decision. In their official announcement, the MIIT, however, failed to address any of the issues raised in the public debate. Under huge pressure, this plan has been therefore terminated. Mainstream outlet is ordered to avoid (delete) any exaggerated coverages. You can find this story on Wikipedia and the Guardian.
Then they host this Internet Conference round-up every year. MIIT invites rich CEOs in every mainstream media outlet, like Sina, NetEase…etc. It’s just like a tea-party in case you are wondering what it is like, no substance (at all). They gather around having a high profile ‘chit-chat’, creating an industry agenda about how Chinese Internet is supposed to be regulated. They revise policies every year just to make sure their interests are and continue to be well-protected. Irrelevant ‘experts’ also got invited to serve as the MIIT’s ‘yes-men’ who present fabricated public opinions to make MIIT feel good. I think I don’t even have to go that far, you know what it’s like. In general they are creating an illusion in which they are very willing to live.
If you ever wanted to run a website or open a company in e-commerce in China, sure you can, all you need is patience. Thanks to MIIT for complicating the entry barriers in this industry. Probably they borrow the term ‘cross-platform’ from software developers, the registration process is also ‘cross-department’. You know what that means? That means you need enough patience to fill countless forms in countless departments. Once you finally opened your business, you are by far not done with them. You are still expected to abide by upcoming policies which is a way to restrict SMEs in this sector. Right! Because CEOs in SMEs never got invited to attend this annual Internet Conference which actually make policies!
This is also what MIIT proudly presents – the Chinese domain name registration. It does nothing but allows company to register a domain name in Chinese, like www.我爸是李刚.com. Get it? You need to switch between Chinese and English for just typing a single address. Surely those government officials in MIIT think that is a more convenient way to surf the internet. And did I mention you need to pay this service again apart from your English domain name registration?
So apart from making useless policies and profiting from the SMEs, MIIT did very little to promote a healthy growth in IT sector. This time they are pretty much trying to block the illegal ‘VoIP’ which, in their definition, are the VoIP services that aren’t operated by China Mobile/Unicom/Telecom. They justified their intention using the security concern that illegal VoIP could fake government/banks hotline number to conduct fraud while wireless carriers could do nothing about this. That’s right! They are blaming Chinese wireless carriers’ incapability on ‘illegal’ VoIP providers like Skype! This is very interesting. Shouldn’t the MIIT rather urge wireless operators to develop countermeasures that are capable to prevent the fraud? Tell me what this is if this is not a protectionist act! Last time I check, China is still a member of WTO.
So, I guess we can officially wait for China Mobile’s announcement for the ‘legal’ VoIP now. And lets just hope that they will have a little decency to match Skype’s rate in their service. Before this, make more Skype calls back home before it’s too late!