Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chinese government wants cyber order

Having mulled over how to respond to Google's threat to withdraw from China, the New China News Agency (Xinhua) has responded with a technique well honed since 1949. It evades the truth.

"China's internet is open" it says. So what is the Golden Shield Project about then? Given my blog is now blocked in China, this is demonstrably a lie.

"China has tried creating a favorable environment for Internet". No China has sought to allow the internet to be used for business, but to use it to spy on dissidents and to block discussion, debate and free speech that goes contrary to what the Communist Party of China wants people to see.

Finally it makes it out to not be a big deal at all saying "Google sent a short statement to Xinhua Wednesday, saying, "We are proud of our achievements in China. Currently we are reviewing the decision and hope for a resolution."" This minimises the whole issue, makes it look like it is only a minor point.

Most notably the report says next to nothing about why Google has suggested it withdraw, citing a "dispute" with the government.

However, a darker response came from an official spokesman quoted by the New York Times. Wang Chen, the information director for the State Council (cabinet) said:

"Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty" as he called for internet companies to "scrutinise" information that may threaten national stability and for online public opinion to be "guided".

Wang Chen thinks he knows better than your average Chinese internet user what opinion is worth considering and what information they should see. Big Brother state is alive and well in China.

The People's Daily (the official paper of the Communist Party) is saying more:

Spinning that this is all about pornography, not free speech per se it reports "all countries should "take active and effective measures to strengthen management of the Internet and make sure their problems do not affect other countries' cyber order." Cyber order?

Then it plays the "people will be victims card" "Chinese Internet users are the real victims if Google quits China. I think Google is just playing cat and mouse, and trying to use netizens' anger or disappointment as leverage" and the government doesn't care "It will not make any difference to the government if Google quits China; however, Google will suffer a huge economic loss by leaving the Chinese market".

Meanwhile its headline talks of linking the internet with telecommunications and broadcasting networks (hardly news), no doubt with the intent of showing China forging ahead with technology and development, to attract foreign corporate interest.

Of course, business analysts are unsurprisingly wondering if Microsoft and Yahoo will reap rewards from this. Neither have shown any great concern for allowing free speech in China, and Microsoft in particular is more focused on getting the Chinese government to combat software piracy. Yahoo in China is predominantly Chinese owned now, so it's sold out, literally.

My big question is how many business people, starry eyed by the size and scope of the Chinese market have sold out free speech, property rights and individual freedoms to make some cash. How many have been disappointed that the enforceability of contracts in the People's Republic of China has more to do with connections, the size of the company you are contracting with, its relationship with the layers of government and the Communist Party? How many have wondered why theft of intellectual property is rampant, as the Communist Party has long regarded theft as a legitimate tool, like the USSR did? How many have found corruption to be rampant and have participated in it?

In other words, how many of those who seek to enjoy the fruits of capitalism spend so little energy and time in supporting the basic concepts that make it work? As such, is it any wonder that they then become victims as governments and citizens turn on businesses, assuming that capitalism unfettered doesn't mean laws against fraud or theft?

For Google, free speech and the ability to enforce laws against trespass (hacking) have proven to be critical to what it does. Maybe it is about time that other businesses in China (and indeed in all countries) paid attention too.

1 comment:

Mo said...

While Google’s threat is interesting, one can’t help but think about the double standards being used to assess China-

US telecom companies and banks allow the US government to snoop over its citizens (“legal” hacking), foreign banks sold out their clients on account of “tax evasion,” and how can one forget the fit the Indian government threw over BlackBerry