China’s Digital War on Terrorism: Can Mass Surveillance and Cyber Censorship Radicalize a Nation


This research brief concisely describes my analysis of China’s internet censorship system – colloquially known as “the Great Firewall” – and the societal impacts it has had in terms of nationalism, radicalization, and terrorism, particularly amongst China’s youth. In short, for over twenty years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been limiting online freedoms and restricting any and all content in cyberspace that could destabilize the Party and the reign of President Xi Jinping. However, China’s online censorship and surveillance apparatus was not always as oppressive and restrictive as it is today. Indeed, as Wang (2020) notes, the internet in China was once a vibrant channel for new thinking, where internet users or “netizens,” had relatively free and open discussions, and where users, typically younger ones, expressed an appetite for debating big ideas – including how the country should be governed. Yet, over the last decade, particularly under Xi, this dynamic has changed dramatically, with the CCP suggesting that for a range of reasons – including religious extremism and domestic and international terrorism – greater oversight and control in cyberspace is needed (Buckley, 2015; Sacks, 2018; Byman, 2019). For these same reasons, the CCP has also increasingly relied on advanced technologies to monitor and oppress certain minority populations (e.g., Uyghurs) in the physical domain, where, for instance, the regime has effectively turned Xinjiang into a surveillance state.

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TSAS RB 2023-08

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