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Officials get past Internet phobia

By Qian Yanfeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-10 06:50
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After Shanghai mayor, city's Party chief posts open letter on the web

SHANGHAI - A phobia of the Internet among Chinese officials may very well be a thing of the past.

As public opinion, voiced through the medium of the Internet, has come to be recognized as a critical tool to address people's concerns, online interactions between high-level government officials and the general public in China have become increasingly common.

Following Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng's open letter to netizens last month, in which he answered 12 questions pertaining to people's livelihood, Internet users were once again elated to find an open reply on Thursday to certain questions they asked of the city's Party chief Yu Zhengsheng.

In the 2,000-word letter, Yu answered in detail three most popular questions concerning Shanghai posted on the People's Daily website, including the Expo gift packs parceled out by the municipal government, the reform on Shanghai's hukou system, and social security.

Yu also thanked netizens for their contribution to Shanghai's development, saying the Internet is "an important channel for the government to hear grassroots opinions".

This was not the first time Yu directly communicated with Shanghai's Internet users.

In his meeting with netizen representatives back in 2008, Yu suggested setting up an evaluation agency to assess the performance of government websites in addressing questions posted online.

Wang Yang, Party chief of Guangdong province, is another example of high-ranking official making use of the Internet in a bid to solicit public opinion to better manage government affairs.

Wang has been communicating with netizens once each year over the past three years to hear their grievances and suggestions, which, he said, are indispensable to the government's decision-making process.

In his open letter wishing netizens a happy New Year in 2008, Wang even used humorous cyber words to get closer to Internet users.

With the number of Chinese Internet users exceeding 400 million, many provinces like Anhui, Guangdong, Guizhou, Henan and Sichuan have appointed Internet spokesmen for different government departments to deal with public complaints.

"More officials have come to realize that the Internet, as a new media for democracy and supervision, cannot be neglected. They have to face and respect it," said Zhuo Zeyuan, a political law professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

"Also, netizens have started playing a major role in setting China's social agenda by repeatedly exposing injustice and corruption. It could undoubtedly promote a sense of discipline among Chinese officials," he added.

Yu Guomin, professor at the Journalism School of Renmin University and deputy director of the Chinese Association of Communication, said the Internet is more efficient and direct than traditional media in helping authorities address public needs and maintain peace.

"The Internet has made a great difference, as it helps public opinion reach top-ranking government officials very easily. It is much more efficient than in the past, when information would have to cross many barriers to reach the person directly in control," he said.

China Daily

(China Daily 07/10/2010 page2)