Saturday, April 02, 2011

Quoted In China Daily!

Imagine my surprise, upon returning to the Association for Asian Studies conference for another day of panels, grabbing a copy of China Daily, a state-run newspaper, and seeing an article on page two about our panel from the day before. Although I was quoted correctly in the article, there are some inaccuracies in the details of how my study is described. So consider yourself forewarned and read on!

You can click here to access China Daily's front page and scroll down to the link entitled, "US Educators Praise e-Governance in China." Or you can click here to access the article directly.

HONOLULU - Public expression and interaction with the government regarding public policy has increased in recent years, experts said during a panel on e-governance and online participation at the annual Association for Asian Studies conference in Honolulu on Thursday.

The Chinese government has committed to improving Internet infrastructures for e-governance and interaction, said Randy Kluver, executive director of the Institute for Pacific Asia and an associate professor in the department of communication at Texas A&M.

With 457 million Internet users in China at the end of 2010, the Chinese government is increasingly aware of both the need and potential of the Internet to shape public policy and the national narrative, said Steven Balla, associate professor of political science and public policy at George Washington University.

"The Internet is playing a potential role of changing the way in which policymaking is ordinarily played out in China," Balla said. "As the population becomes better educated, and as more of a stake is held by ordinary citizens, there are increasing opportunities from fruitful exchange between the government and society."

Balla and Kluver conducted studies regarding government solicitations for public feedback regarding health system reform at the central government level, and more specific policies at the local level.

"At the local township level, we find e-government being used at tremendous ways to solicit citizen input," Kluver said. "We find people using the Internet to register their priorities."

He pointed to a district in Beijing, in which the local government set up a website to solicit public opinion on trash collection priorities. Comments were posted publicly, making the government accountable for their response to public opinion, he said.

In October 2008, China's central government posted a solicitation for public feedback on proposed healthcare reform, which ultimately received 30,000 comments from citizens. Using email addresses provided by participants, Baller was able to conduct a survey regarding assumptions about government responsiveness and characteristics of the participants.

More than 80 percent were male, reflecting a larger gender parity in Chinese Internet users, he said. About 90 percent were university graduates, and 60 percent had participated in other efforts by the government to solicit public opinions in other areas of reform. This suggested that these efforts were most effective with people already actively interested in public affairs, he said.

"But even with an elite set of participants, I tend to be fairly bullish on the potential in providing these next steps for greater civil societal involvement in public policy decision-making."

While websites at the central government levels were less likely to reach broad audiences, efforts by local governments were quite effective, Kluver said.

"I think greater potential exists at the local level," he said. "At the local level a different kind of governance is emerging."

There is a general belief in the power of technology to make changes in China, said Cara Wallis, assistant professor in communications at Texas A&M University.

Wallis studied a group of 32 young rural women who had been recruited to participant in government and foreign-funded computer training, and found that most believed strongly that technology would change their fates in life, she said.

The government is beginning to harness some of this "soft power", said Marcella T. Szabelwicz, a PhD candidate in communication and rhetoric at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the 2010 US Fulbright Fellow. Of the 457 million Internet users in China, government studies estimate that 300 million of them are active users of Internet gaming websites, and the government has begun funding domestic gaming companies, she said.

Some of the games created by these companies actively promote specific national narratives.

Silvia Lindtner, a PhD candidate in the department of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, studied new media artists and professionals in Shanghai, and found that while many of these individuals identified with a counterculture tradition, most ultimately benefited from government funding.

"This narrative of creativity and innovation fits nicely with the government's stimulation of creative industries," she said. "The government is funding new forms of technological growth and finding new avenues of investment from abroad. It rapidly switches from a counterculture culture to fitting nicely with government goals."

How exactly to utilize the power of the technology and its huge potential to shape both policy and pop culture in the form of soft power is still being determined, Szabelwicz said. But the development and nurturance of both creative industries and e-governance are clear indications that the government is aware of how the Internet and technology will play a role in the national narrative in coming years.



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