China’s new ‘Berlin Wall’
Hillary Clinton has deepened a row over freedom of expression in China by warning Beijing that its alleged attack on Google would have “consequences” and comparing its censorship of the internet to the Berlin Wall.
The US Secretary of State’s criticism — coming days after the internet company said that it would withdraw from the world’s most populous nation in protest at curbs imposed on its users — is a serious intensification of the dispute that now threatens relations between the two powers.
“Countries that restrict free access to information, or violate the basic rights of internet users, risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century,” Mrs Clinton said, adding that the US and China “have different views on this issue, and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently.
“Countries or individuals that engage in cyber-attacks should face consequences and international condemnation. In an internet-connected world, an attack on one nation’s networks can be an attack on all.
“We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas,” she told an audience in Washington, in a speech that also named Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam as nations that censored the internet or harassed bloggers.
About 30 per cent of the world’s internet users had restricted access, she said. “No nation, no group, no individual should stay buried in the rubble of oppression.”
Mrs Clinton challenged China to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the recent cyber- attacks on Google, which also targeted dozens of other US companies. She warned that China’s economy — now second only in size to the US — would ultimately be harmed by its attempts to control information.
Google said that those behind the computer attack tried to plunder its software coding, and the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Chinese citizens find information about sensitive subjects such as the Tiananmen Square uprising filtered on google.cn and other search engines.
The social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, as well as the video site YouTube, are blocked. Throwing the US Government behind Google’s new stance on China, Mrs Clinton urged technology companies to refuse to support censorship, and called on US businesses not to support suppression in search of quick profits.
Its rival search engine Yahoo! has come out in support of Google’s move since it was announced last week.
“I hope that refusal to support politically motivated censorship will become a trademark characteristic of American technology companies. And when their business dealings threaten to undermine this freedom, they need to consider what’s right, not simply the prospect of quick profits,” she said.
The State Department is to hold a high-level meeting next month with companies that provide network services, for talks on internet freedom. Mrs Clinton wants technology companies to help to provide new tools that will “enable citizens to exercise their right of free expression” by circumventing censorship.
Relations between the US and China are already troubled by quarrels over trade, Taiwan and human rights. Earlier a senior Chinese minister sought to contain the row, saying that Google’s dispute should not be over-stated. Beijing has until now treated the spat as a commercial matter, declaring that the search giant must obey China’s laws and traditions.
Hours before Mrs Clinton’s speech, He Yafei, the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister, told the official Xinhua news agency: “The Google incident should not be linked to bilateral relations, otherwise that would be over-interpreting it.” However, two state-controlled newspapers yesterday accused Google of allowing itself to be used by the US Government for political purposes, and warned that it would pay a high price for doing so.
Google, which informed US authorities about the cyber-attacks before going public, praised Mrs Clinton’s words. “Free expression and security are important issues for governments everywhere, and at Google we are obviously great believers in the value to society of unfettered access to information,” it said in a statement.
Wen Yunchao, a prominent blogger based in Guangzhou, southern China, said that the speech would boost the morale of those who sought greater internet freedom in China, but that more details of America’s efforts to advance the cause around the world were needed. China is home to the world’s largest online population of 382 million people.
Many of us have friends in China, Expats as well as Chinese friends on the various sites many of us network on. It is not a case of them ignoring our messages, it is simply a case oftheir access to the Web has been removed against their own free will.
Expats have and are finding ways to get past this Electronic Wall by gaining access to VPN networks (In a nutshell), an escape tunnel avoiding censorship and monitoring by use of virtual networks.