While researching my article on the Proliferation Security Initiative, I reviewed the Wikipedia article on the Yinhe incident, a less than glorious chapter in American WMD intelligence gathering and interdiction.
The article, written by a Chinese national, describes how in 1993 the United States suspected a Chinese container vessel, the Yinhe, of transporting chemical weapon precursors destined for Iran and insisted the vessel proceed to Dammam, Saudi Arabia, to be searched. Nothing was found—much to the chagrin of confront-China partisans in the United States.
The author has a difficult time maintaining a veneer of scholarly objectivity:
Although many American diplomats and CIA openly admitted that the incident was a mistake, many conservatives in the United States such as the Blue Team nonetheless attempted to fabricate outrageous excuses such as the Chinese submarine had met the Chinese ship somewhere in the trip and had secretly transfered the chemical weapons material the ship was carrying, without any intelligence support. When such racist accusation reached China, even the Chinese dissidents who were always critical to the Chinese regime was enraged, resulting in increased Chinese nationalism in response.
Memorably, he concludes:
On September 25, 1993, "Yinhe" successfully returned to Xingang, Tianjin. However, the perfect on-time schedule of the Chinese shipping company was permanently ruined by the incident.
As a similar example of misplaced indignation, I could only think of Homer Simpson’s objection to the 55 MPH speed limit: “Yes, lives will be saved. But millions will be late!”
To be fair, English is not the author’s first language, and he did a more nuanced job in the
article he did on the same subject on Chinese Wikipedia.
Interestingly, that version differs significantly in emphasis and, while describing the incident as an embarrassment for the United States, stated that “the incident is considered a defeat for Chinese diplomacy and the Chinese navy”.
In the English article, the author registers his disapproval of China’s accommodating response only in a relatively oblique manner:
The Chinese government, on the other hand, attempted to play down the issue by claiming that the racist accusation was not the official stand of the American government and did not represent the majority opinion in the United States.
I hadn’t been aware of the flurry of Chinese activity on Wikipedia entries in Chinese, let alone English, but in perusing the Chinese Wikipedia message board I found a message dated August 2006 exhorting editors to even greater Stakhanovite achievements in production.
Urging everybody to forward the mobilization order to five message boards, it urges every Wikipedia editor to come up with five new entries and states:
Currently Chinese Wikipedia has 90,000 registered users. If only 4000 people answer the mobilization order, by October 1 we will have added 20,000 entries, meaning that Chinese Wikipedia will quickly surpass Russian Wikipedia and break the 100,000 entry barrier...
With reference to this outburst of Wikipedia energy in China, it was interesting to read this entry on Ryan Petersen’s blog, Expreference today via Peking Duck (whose commenters confirmed that the ban has been lifted, apparently on an ISP basis, in various localities throughout China):
I thought I'd never see the day, but the Chinese censors have lifted the long-standing ban on Wikipedia! Maybe they finally realized that because anybody can edit Wikipedia, they can just delete the stuff they don't like anyways. And I assure you that the Chinese government can organize more people to edit and delete articles than the rest of the Wikipedia community combined! Now the battle is likely to turn the other way, as Wikipedia bans Chinese IP addresses from presenting the world with lies and half-truths about topics sensitive to the regime.
Watch out, Wikipedia!