The much publicized "dispute" between the online search engine Google and the government of China is something hardly anyone could have foreseen, or predicted, as recently as 20 years ago. During much of the post-War, "Cold War" period, America and the Soviet Union relentlessly attempted to out-image each other, in an attempt to influence world opinion, in a classic propaganda tug-of-war. Radio Free Europe, a media organization begun in 1949, and funded by American Conservative interests (which still exists!), was intended to penetrate the "Iron Curtain" of the Soviet Union and its "satellites" with alternative views of events in competition with the "official" state news emanating from Moscow.
Radio Free Europe had little effect on the Soviet Union, though the battle of the super states was "won" by America, when the Soviet Union finally capitulated in a break-up of its allied republics in 1991. This occurred largely because of economic factors within the Soviet Bloc, though America's military-industrial build-up during the Reagan years, is thought by some to have pushed it over the edge.
History takes strange turns. Who would have thought that China, once the most regressive of totalitarian regimes (remember the days of Mao's "Cultural Revolution"?), now leads the world in economic growth and power, having adopted the capitalist model of production (if not its accompanying parliamentarian style of governance).
With the coming of the internet, the movement of information around the globe has become a tsunami, with rapid, unfettered communication amongst people of all nations taking place at unimaginable speed and efficiency. Though this has its dark side (Arab terrorist networks apparently exist and connect by dint of electronic devices), it clearly has facilitated the "information age" in which data, opinion and transactions move freely across borders, jurisdictions and time-zones.
In an attempt by China's "old guard" leadership to preserve its grip on its populace and institutions, censorship and persecution has been utilized to prevent people from seeing "subversive" content which might threaten its authority and dominance. "Firewalls" have been set up by the Chinese information agency through state-controlled ISP's to prevent Chinese citizens to access sites and debate regarding, for instance, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, which is widely available on the internet outside China.
In new developments, China was suspected of orchestrating "sophisticated" cyber attacks on Western internet systems (such as Google), in what has been interpreted as a campaign to obtain operating data, and protected information about users (e.g., Chinese human rights activists).
Meanwhile, forces and interests in the United States have been struggling to effect outcomes favorable to their constituencies. Economic and trade arrangements (the U.S. is China's biggest customer for goods, and China holds the lion's share of America's deficit bonds) may be threatened. The Obama Administration has reportedly sought to influence the Google Corporation to take a stand on freedom of information by insisting on an end to China's organized state censorship of the Web. If Google were to abandon the huge internet market in China (purportedly to number over 300 million users), as it has threatened to do, that share would then belong to competitors like Baidu.com.
The internet is now widely regarded as the "Trojan Horse" of Western Capitalism inside China, forcing open doors long closed to foreigners. Ironically, China has managed to adopt Western economic practices, without being persuaded or coerced into transforming its political institutions. It's a hybrid new regime, neither Communist nor Democratic, retaining some of the most egregious forms of totalitarian oppression, while economically leveraging its opponents.
What is the most favorable outcome? If China were to adopt a quasi-parliamentary form of government, would this further encourage Chinese economic expansion, and facilitate its suspected possible military and geographical influence in Asia? Would it, in effect, put paid to a Chinese post-Cold War triumph over Western power? Could the World Wide Web--led by Google, the chief internet presence right now in the world--become the means by which America's 100 year dominance in world power (Gore Vidal's "American Empire") was finally ended?