In one of the first Covert Contact updates I stated that the Chinese had all but lost the internal censorship battle due to the massive explosion of blogging and other social media activity. The Guardian now reports that the Communist party central committee has issued a communique urging tighter controls and stepped up prosecutions for users who get too bold. However, the piece goes on to cite unnamed “analysts” who believe that the government has to stop short of shutting down the sites themselves:

“Analysts believe that officials will not shut down social media sites because they are simply too popular, and closing them would create a backlash. Chinese authorities have sought to use social media proactively, launching their own accounts.”

Of course, the Chinese have a massive internal security operation at the technical and human levels that will create the illusion of control as long as the populace plays along. But what happens when discontent bubbles to the surface and millions simultaneously move to vent their frustration? Well, we already know what that is like and that is precisely why the Chinese government is terrified.

Recommended on Twitter: @panphil. Philip Pan is author of the book, Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China. Formerly Washington Post bureau chief in Beijing and Moscow.

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