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The Taiwanese Fight Fire With Wire


International Business: THE INTERNET

THE TAIWANESE FIGHT FIRE WITH WIRE

They're using the Web to protest Chinese bullying

Many university students in Taiwan know him only as "the Webmaster." J.B. Lin, a 29-year-old PhD candidate in economics at Michigan State University, stays incognito while using the Internet as a weapon against China's missile tests. The Taiwanese-born Lin recently came up with a hard-hitting World Wide Web page called "China, Keep Your Bloody Hands Off Taiwan." With its bold graphics and abundance of military, historical, and political data, the site is a one-stop cybershop for anyone sympathetic to Taiwan. "Everybody needs better access to information about what is happening and what they can do about it," says Lin. "I want to be a communications center."

Known for their high-tech prowess, the Taiwanese are taking political protests to new heights. While fax machines helped undermine communist regimes in the former Soviet bloc, the well-to-do Taiwanese prefer the Internet as the chosen medium for high-impact protests. They're way ahead of Beijing, which is tightening control over the Internet because it fears the kind of information disseminated by Taiwan's hackers. From Buddhist sects to American-based scholars, Taiwanese groups are going online to express their outrage. "Taiwan is definitely very wired," says Ken Adler, a Hong Kong-based managing director for Penril Datability Networks, a maker of networking products.

URGING SURFERS. Lin's Web site is the most impressive. Once he got rolling with his home page on Mar. 8, Taiwanese around the globe started feeding him information. Now the page (http://www.taiwanese.com/protest/), includes everything from illustrated details of Beijing's military maneuvers to the latest news reports. Lin lists anti-China protests around the world and urges surfers to write to leaders in China and the U.S. With a click you can find the phone number of Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen (861-513-5566) or the E-mail addresses of 72 members of the U.S. Congress. Click again and you're provided with sample letters to President Clinton and Republican rival Senator Bob Dole. Since Mar. 6, the page has already received nearly 22,000 "hits."

Like Lin, many of the creators of the protest home pages are Taiwanese students in the U.S. Some ask browsers to sign petitions against China, while others call for a nonviolent resolution to the conflict. "Don't let the Communists commit genocide, destroy Taiwanese culture, and take away freedom of religion," writes the Friends of Buddhism, a group based in the U.S. (www.infinet.com/(tilde)rinpoche/free.htm) That doesn't include the various newsgroups, where heated arguments--many of them off-color--are taking place on the crisis.

The Taiwanese are not the only Asians who are turning to the Net for political protests. BurmaNet, a Bangkok-based service (sunsite.unc.edu.free burma/bnn/bnn.html.) chronicles human rights abuses in Myanmar, as the country is now officially known, while the East Timor Action Network (cschein erigc.apc.org) is devoted to championing the cause of the former Portuguese colony taken over by Indonesia 20 years ago.

NOT AMUSED. But given Taiwan's particular penchant for high technology, the Net is a natural communications outlet. One in 10 households owns a computer, and there are 350,000 Internet users. That could be why Taiwan's top three political parties have home pages designed in part to bolster their candidates in the upcoming presidential elections.

Even so, the audience for these pages may be very limited. Many observers believe the Taiwanese are mainly preaching to the converted. Users in China are unlikely to have access to these Web sites, since most of them are academics limited to using the Net for research. Many Chinese students overseas who can read Lin's site aren't amused. "We have the power to get Taiwan back today, and if necessary, we will do it," an angry mainland student in the U.S. E-mailed Lin. Another Chinese student in Japan lamented the fact that Lin used a logo of a Chinese flag with an X over it.

Lin is undaunted. If China continues to ratchet up the tension, he has more cyberdazzle in mind. What's next? He's preparing a 3-D graphic of a burning Chinese flag. Putting that on the Net might lead mainland Chinese students in the U.S. to launch their own protest page against Taiwan's Webmaster.By Joyce Barnathan in Hong Kong and Margaret Dawson in Taipei


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