01/23/2010, 00.00
CHINA - USA
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The heroism of Google and the fear of China

by Bernardo Cervellera
Obama and Hillary Clinton want to end Internet censorship. But China is not willing to loosen its grip on censorship, essential in maintaining the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Relations between the two nations at the risk, while human rights activists applaud.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Tension between China and the United States shows no sign of abating after attacks against Google. A White House spokesman said yesterday that President Obama is "worried" about what has happened to the American company and expects "some answers" from China, threatening "consequences" for those who are responsible for the attack. The President’s comments come a day after China denounced as "damaging" a speech by Hillary Clinton about freedom on the Internet - accusing Beijing - and said that it threatens to undermine relations between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Google continues to offer its Chinese users uncensored material, pending renegotiations of agreements with Beijing on its presence in China. The American company is also ready to close its offices in China. Google currently owns at least one third of the Chinese Internet market. Its main rival, Baidu, supported by the government as an anti-Google, covers 60%. But the majority of Google users are people with a high level of education, are concentrated in cities and have a good average wage. Last year the graduates users of the U.S. company were four times those of Baidu. The following is our editorial (also published in the newspaper "Avvenire" (23/1/2010).

The controversies that erupted in recent days between Google and China and then between Washington and Beijing have an important message for the entire international community. Mid month, the internet giant discovered that its systems in China had been violated by local hackers (perhaps on the orders of the Beijing government), who managed to steal email addresses and information on Chinese dissidents. For Google this was too much. The American company had already accepted a good deal of censure on entering the Chinese market in 2006: the filtering of news critical of the Communist Party; cancellation of issues related to Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong practitioners, religious persecution, etc. ... At the time, Google’s decision was criticized by sufers of the web as a betrayal of the freedom of the network, one of the principles touted by the same company which defended itself by saying that 'a bit of free information is better than nothing. "

Frustrated by the insatiable Chinese censorship, Google now wants to reconsider its relationship with the authorities and about a week ago took down all filters to its information, to the delight of millions of Chinese who finally found news easily of the Tiananmen massacre, violence against the Dalai Lama and the Uyghurs, allegations of corruption in the party. However among Chinese there is concern that Beijing will not give up easily and will force Google to submit to censorship or even abandon the Chinese market.

Google’s gesture is somewhat heroic. Up to now all the companies of the Internet (along with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, Cisco, etc ...) had accepted for the sake of the Chinese market (currently at 384 million internet users) a dose of censorship. Apparently Google has realized that China like any dictatorship, is never satisfied and increasingly demands submission. It is possible that behind this "humiliation" of foreign companies, there is a way to give more space for Chinese companies like Baidu, that are suffering in the current global economic crisis and unable to face competition on equal terms.  

Google’s cause was taken up two days ago by Hillary Clinton who accused China (and some other countries) of building a "new Berlin Wall" with its Internet censorship. The foreign ministry in Beijing reacted in harsh terms, claiming that it is following its own laws on Internet use and judging Clinton’s words  "harmful" to relations between China and the U.S..

In Clinton’s case it seems to be a sort of "conversion" or afterthought, given that only a year ago, in Beijing, she made it clear to reporters that her administration would enter into discussions with China about anything, but without jeopardizing economic relations. However, perhaps even Clinton became aware that China always wants more, and that silence from Washington on the Dalai Lama, the Uyghurs, the arrest of dissidents, does not correspond to a generous opening up of the economy, which is still closely protected in China. Until now many were betting that economic openings would bring about more freedom in the country. Now they realize that even the few economic openings that have come about are subject to the Party, which distributes wealth as it wishes, but always and only to those who maintain its supremacy. Internet companies, for example, are tired of seeing government contracts with heavy subsidies always fall into the laps of Chinese companies.

Google and Clinton’s clashes with China mark an end to the silence and burying of human rights violations in China in exchange for appetising economic contracts. It has finally been realized that where freedom of information is mined, sooner or later, even the freedom of trade is lame and the only way to work with China is form a "mafia" group with it.  

Those who are made happiest by this controversy are the human rights activists. Many Chinese, at the news of the position taken by Google, staged candlelight vigils and laid flowers outside the headquarters of the Beijing company. Several bloggers praised Google and asked for freedom for Hu Jia and Liu Xiaobo, two activists sentenced to 4 and 11 years in prison just for having distributed their ideas of democracy and the end of single party rule on the internet. Control over the Internet is the only way of holding the population down and censorship the only method for retaining power. Information, we all know, is power; lack of information supports dictatorship.

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