Google and internet control in China

Jason Wilson (‘Google No Champion of Human Rights’, New Matilda 14 Jan 2010) suggests that we should treat with scepticism the view that freedom of expression and human rights were major factors in Google’s recent announcement. Maybe: although it should should be noted that Google, recognizing the ethical wrong of censorship, did insist upon advising users when their search engine terms were being filtered; and, to avoid having to hand over emails to police, it did not set up a gmail service in China. Probably, Google’s motives were a mix of commercial and ‘freedom of expression’ concerns.Four years ago it did say it would ” carefully monitor conditions in China”.

The present point is that Google’s motives are of limited importance to the material issue which has arisen.What now matters is the outcome of the challenge to China’s massive internet censorship. For almost the first time since the Tiananmen massacre the ‘Human Rights World’ has, to use a phrase of Mao Tse-tung’s, ‘stood up’, although to, rather than by, China and on a human rights issue. The hitherto prevailing policy, based upon hope rather than realistic appraisal, of engagement with China rather than criticism(at least of a public character) has failed. But whether failed or not, the Google threat constitutes a challenge which cannot be disregarded or side-stepped. To the credit of the United States Administration, Secretary of State Clinton, in a firm but measured speech  has called for the universal freedom of the internet. What is crucial is that this be followed up with the Chinese government and publicly in international fora by all governments and that the issue be not relegated to ‘silent diplomacy’.Likewise, it is important that Google does not enter into a ‘weak’ compromise. It is that prospect which alone makes the ‘commercial’ character of Google’s motives relevant.

For a comprehensive description of Chinese users’ attitude towards the  internet, see Kathrin Hille’s interesting article.

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Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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