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China Unveils Frightening Futuristic Police State at Olympics

Date: Monday, 11-August-2008
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By Naomi Klein
The Huffington Post
August 8, 2008

So far, the Olympics have been an open invitation to China-bash, abottomless excuse for Western journalists to go after the Commies oneverything from internet censorship to Darfur. Through all the nastynews stories, however, the Chinese government has seemed amazinglyunperturbed. That's because it is betting on this: when the openingceremonies begin friday, you will instantly forget all thatunpleasantness as your brain is zapped by thecultural/athletic/political extravaganza that is the Beijing Olympics.

Like it or not, you are about to be awed by China's sheer awesomeness.

The games have been billed as China's "coming out party" to theworld. They are far more significant than that. These Olympics arethe coming out party for a disturbingly efficient way of organizingsociety, one that China has perfected over the past three decades,and is finally ready to show off. It is a potent hybrid of the mostpowerful political tools of authoritarianism communism -- centralplanning, merciless repression, constant surveillance -- harnessed toadvance the goals of global capitalism. Some call it "authoritariancapitalism," others "market Stalinism," personally I prefer "McCommunism."

The Beijing Olympics are themselves the perfect expression of thishybrid system. Through extraordinary feats of authoritariangoverning, the Chinese state has built stunning new stadiums,highways and railways -- all in record time. It has razed wholeneighborhoods, lined the streets with trees and flowers and, thanksto an "anti-spitting" campaign, cleaned the sidewalks of saliva. TheCommunist Party of China even tried to turn the muddy skies blue byordering heavy industry to cease production for a month -- a sort ofgovernment-mandated general strike.

As for those Chinese citizens who might go off-message during thegames -- Tibetan activists, human right campaigners, malcontentbloggers -- hundreds have been thrown in jail in recent months.Anyone still harboring protest plans will no doubt be caught on oneof Beijing's 300,000 surveillance cameras and promptly nabbed by asecurity officer; there are reportedly 100,000 of them on Olympics duty.

The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebratethe glories of Communism, regardless of what China's governing partycalls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visacards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald's happymeals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery -- to name just a few of theofficial Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is thesurveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe andthe Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirelyfor-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global DisasterCapitalism Complex.

Chinese corporations financed by U.S. hedge funds, as well as some ofAmerican's most powerful corporations -- Cisco, General Electric,Honeywell, Google -- have been working hand in glove with the Chinesegovernment to make this moment possible: networking the closedcircuit cameras that peer from every other lamp pole, building the"Great Firewall" that allows for remote internet monitoring, anddesigning those self-censoring search engines.

By next year, the Chinese internal security market is set to be worth$33-billion. Several of the larger Chinese players in the field haverecently taken their stocks public on U.S. exchanges, hoping to cashin the fact that, in volatile times, security and defense stocks areseen as the safe bets. China Information Security Technology, forinstance, is now listed on the NASDAQ and China Security andSurveillance is on the NYSE. A small clique of U.S. hedge funds hasbeen floating these ventures, investing more than $150-million in thepast two years. The returns have been striking. Between October 2006and October 2007, China Security and Surveillance's stock went up 306 percent.

Much of the Chinese government's lavish spending on cameras and othersurveillance gear has taken place under the banner of "OlympicSecurity." But how much is really needed to secure a sporting event?The price tag has been put at a staggering $12-billion -- to put thatin perspective, Salt Lake City, which hosted the Winter Olympics justfive months after September 11, spent $315 million to secure thegames. Athens spent around $1.5-billion in 2004. Many human rightsgroups have pointed out that China's security upgrade is reaching farbeyond Beijing: there are now 660 designated "safe cities" across thecountry, municipalities that have been singled out to receive newsurveillance cameras and other spy gear. And of course all theequipment purchased in the name of Olympics safety -- iris scanners,"anti-riot robots" and facial recognition software -- will stay inChina after the games are long gone, free to be directed at strikingworkers and rural protestors.

What the Olympics have provided for Western firms is a palatablecover story for this chilling venture. Ever since the 1989 TiananmenSquare Massacre, U.S. companies have been barred from selling policeequipment and technology to China, since lawmakers feared it would bedirected, once again, at peaceful demonstrators. That law has beencompletely disregarded in the lead up to the Olympics, when, in thename of safety for athletes and VIPs (including George W. Bush), nonew toy has been denied the Chinese state.

There is a bitter irony here. When Beijing was awarded the gamesseven years ago, the theory was that international scrutiny wouldforce China's government to grant more rights and freedom to itspeople. Instead, the Olympics have opened up a backdoor for theregime to massively upgrade its systems of population control andrepression. And remember when Western companies used to claim that bydoing business in China, they were actually spreading freedom anddemocracy? We are now seeing the reverse: investment in surveillanceand censorship gear is helping Beijing to actively repress a newgeneration of activists before it has the chance to network into amass movement.

The numbers on this trend are frightening. In April 2007, officialsfrom 13 provinces held a meeting to report back on how their newsecurity measures were performing. In the province of Jiangsu, which,according to the South China Morning Post, was using "artificialintelligence to extend and improve the existing monitoring system"the number of protests and riots "dropped by 44 per cent last year."In the province of Zhejiang, where new electronic surveillancesystems had been installed, they were down 30 per cent. In Shaanxi,"mass incidents" -- code for protests -- were down by 27 per cent ina year. Dong Lei, the province's deputy party chief, gave part of thecredit to a huge investment in security cameras across the province."We aim to achieve all day and all-weather monitoring capability," hetold the gathering.

Activists in China now find themselves under intense pressure, unableto function even at the limited levels they were able to a year ago.Internet cafes are filled with surveillance cameras, and surfing iscarefully watched. At the offices of a labor rights group in HongKong, I met the well-known Chinese dissident Jun Tao. He had justfled the mainland in the face of persistent police harassment. Afterdecades of fighting for democracy and human rights, he said the newsurveillance technologies had made it "impossible to continue tofunction in China."

It's easy to see the dangers of a high tech surveillance state in faroff China, since the consequences for people like Jun are so severe.It's harder to see the dangers when these same technologies creepinto every day life closer to home-networked cameras on U.S. citystreets, "fast lane" biometric cards at airports, dragnetsurveillance of email and phone calls. But for the global homelandsecurity sector, China is more than a market; it is also a showroom.In Beijing, where state power is absolute and civil libertiesnon-existent, American-made surveillance technologies can be taken toabsolute limits.

The first test begins today: Can China, despite the enormous unrestboiling under the surface, put on a "harmonious" Olympics? If theanswer is yes, like so much else that is made in China, Police State2.0 will be ready for export.

Naomi Klein's latest book is The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of DisasterCapitalism.

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