ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷 (pjammer) wrote,
ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷

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Who Lost China's Internet?

In the summer of 2000, I was on a business trip to Shanghai, China. Going online was one of the creepiest experiences I've had in my life: entire sections of the Internet suddenly disappeared and I was warned by coworkers to be very careful in my email correspondence not to mention "trigger words" like 'Taiwan independence,' 'free Tibet,' or 'Faulun Gong,' even in encrypted messages. Especially in encrypted messages.

So you are an American technology company desperate to tap into China's lucrative market and consumer base, but the Mainland Chinese government sets some highly questionable conditions for your participation. What do you do? If you're Cisco, you offer to build a "custom router device and firewall box specially designed for the government's telecom monopoly. At approximately $20,000 a box, China Telecom 'bought many thousands' and IBM arranged for the 'high-end' financing. Michael confirms: 'Cisco made a killing. They are everywhere.'"

Yahoo! offers to publish fraudulently low hit numbers to depress its popularity-ranking and avoid embarrassing the China's own search engine/portals Sohu, Sina and Netease. In addition:

The former Yahoo! rep also admitted that the search phrase "Taiwan independence" on Chinese Yahoo! would yield no results, because Yahoo! has disabled searches for select keywords, such as "Falun Gong" and "China democracy." Search for VIP Reference, a major overseas Chinese dissident site, and you will get a single hit, a government site ripping it to shreds. How did Yahoo! come up with these policies? He replied, "It was a precautionary measure. The State Information Bureau was in charge of watching and making sure that we complied. The game is to make sure that they don't complain." By this logic, when Yahoo! rejected an attempt by Voice of America to buy ad space, they were just helping the Internet function smoothly. The former rep defended such censorship: "We are not a content creator, just a medium, a selective medium." But it is a critical medium. The Chinese government uses it to wage political campaigns against Taiwan, Tibet, and America. And of course the great promise of the Internet in China was supposed to be that it was unfettered, not selective. The Yahoo! rep again: "You adjust. The crackdowns come in waves; it's just the issue du jour. It's normal."
Too, AOL and Sun Microsystems threw their weight behind China Internet Corporation, an arm of the state-run Xinhua news agency which disseminates government propaganda.

The sole holdout, ironically enough, is Microsoft; when Microsoft was asked to bend over and play along, they played hardball and refused - calling China's bluff:

But what is "normal" in China can be altered under duress. When Chinese authorities ordered Microsoft to surrender its software's underlying source codes--the keys to encryption--as the price of doing business there, Microsoft chose to fight, spearheading an unprecedented Beijing-based coalition of American, Japanese, and European Chambers of Commerce. Faced with being left behind technologically, the Chinese authorities dropped their demands. Theoretically, China's desire to be part of the Internet should have given the capitalists who wired it similar leverage. Instead, the leverage all seems to have remained with the government, as Western companies fell all over themselves bidding for its favor.

Who Lost China's Internet?
Ethan Gutmann

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