Catch-2000 in China

SAN FRANCISCO (01/28/2000) - China doesn't want its citizens using the Internet to spread information? The media is shocked!

Liz Sly, the Chicago Tribune's woman in Beijing, did the best job placing China's new secrecy law into context, observing that it came just as a "mushrooming corruption scandal" within the Communist Party, in which as much as $20 billion may have been, er, diverted, was becoming known inside China - becoming known, that is, almost entirely via the Net. The restrictions were dated retroactively to Jan. 1, so discussing "state secrets," not defined in the new order, was illegal even before it was made illegal. Where have you gone, Joe Heller?

Elizabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times got off the best line about the agency that released the new secrecy law: "The new regulations were issued by the State Secrecy Bureau, a little-known agency whose exact function the main government news office was unable to describe, despite repeated requests."

International English-language coverage was similarly harsh, even on the editorial page of the South China Morning Post, published in mainland-controlled Hong Kong. On these shores, the New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has large Chinese holdings, ignored the story completely, preferring to devote space to speculating on whether Larry Ellison was getting married.

Also in the Far East, Japan was reeling from what Reuters called "humiliating" hacker attacks on government Web sites: One was linked to a pornographic site, another was garnished with verbal attacks in Chinese on Japan's war record.

Census data has disappeared, too. Reuters reported "Japan called an emergency meeting" in response but didn't get around to mentioning who called the meeting, who attended it, where it was, or what its purpose was. Sounds more like China than Japan.

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