Google redeems its reputation – and throws down the gauntlet to China #china #freespeech

In a shock announcement, Google, the internet search giant, has thrown down the gauntlet to the Chinese authorities by announcing that it is going to end the censorship of its Chinese operations. In an announcement on its official blog, the search engine giant cites specifically the attacks that have been made by cyber terrorists on human rights advocates.

Google earned condemnation from politicians and internet users around the world for its decision to self-censor its Chinese operations on Tuesday 24 January 2006. Critics pointed out the glaring contradiction between what it was doing – silencing the voices of those who had not earned the approval of Beijing’s regime – and its ten-point philosophy of operations, specifically points 6 and 8:

6. You can make money without doing evil

8. The need for information crosses all borders

Google’s decision is not just a challenge to Beijing. It is a challenge to those other corporate giants that hitherto have put profit before principle. Internet leaders Microsoft and Yahoo, as well as  Cisco, one of the world’s leading manufacturer of networking equipment, have all been the subject of criticism for the way they have been prepared to satisfy the censorial instincts of the Chinese government, notably by members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in February 2006. Disturbingly, Reporters Sans Frontières claim Yahoo was responsible for passing personal information to the Chinese authorities, resulting in the jailing of journalist, poet and blogger Shi Tao. You can read some of Shi Tao’s writings on press freedom here. Please click the thumbnail below to be taken to his page on the website of Human Rights in China, founded by students and academics to promote universal human rights and advance their institutional protection in China:

We seem to have developed a tendency, misguided I think, to measure a country disproportionately by its economic reforms. China is no exception – and it certainly has reformed its economy out of all recognition in the past thirty years. The CIA World Fact Book makes the following observation on China’s economy (I still find it odd that the CIA put their World Fact Book online):

“China’s economy during the past 30 years has changed from a centrally planned system that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy. Reforms started in the late 1970s with the phasing out of collectivized agriculture, and expanded to include the gradual liberalization of prices, fiscal decentralization, increased autonomy for state enterprises, the foundation of a diversified banking system, the development of stock markets, the rapid growth of the non-state sector, and the opening to foreign trade and investment. Annual inflows of foreign direct investment rose to nearly $84 billion in 2007. China has generally implemented reforms in a gradualist or piecemeal fashion. In recent years, China has re-invigorated its support for leading state-owned enterprises in sectors it considers important to “economic security,” explicitly looking to foster globally competitive national champions.”

I can’t help feeling that attributing a country some nebulous value of “standing”, based predominantly on perceptions of the sophistication and liberality of its domestic market,  risks eclipsing other considerations which are intrinsic to properly understanding a state and the country it governs. With China having 30 years of reform behind it, and with the current uncertainties dogging established Western free market economies  in the current global economy, we are in danger of forgetting that the expression of Communism in state form has always been accompanied by instruments and policies of the state that are unacceptable in terms of human rights, free speech and human dignity. Akmal Shaikh becomes a footnote in the continuing evolution of economic relations as we establish trade missions for our benefit, regardless of China’s record on human rights and the treatment of those, like  Guo Quan, who risk their life for the free expression we take for granted.

I cannot believe that it is without cost to our own humanity if we decide to subordinate principle to profit.

So from this Liberal – who is an ardent supporter of the basic principles of the free market – well done Google for at the very least giving us pause for thought.

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