Saturday, January 23, 2010

Global Internet Freedom: National Conflicts Have Begun

China and the United States are barking at each other over the issue of internet freedom. America has a completely open internet, but China and other countries, who seek more controls over information dissemination, are censoring the internet users and operators. Google recently threatened to pull out of China if the Chinese government continues to insist on censorship tools in the Google China search engine. Baidu is China's largest search engine service. The conflict was addressed by President Obama during his November 2009 Town Hall in China and came to a head last Thursday when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a blistering speech on internet freedom. In addition to accusing China of limiting internet freedom, Secretary Clinton also named Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Needless to say, the Chinese government did not take kindly to the speech.


To use market terminology, a publicly listed company in Tunisia or Vietnam that operates in an environment of censorship will always trade at a discount relative to an identical firm in a free society. If corporate decision makers don’t have access to global sources of news and information, investors will have less confidence in their decisions over the long term. Countries that censor news and information must recognize that from an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring political speech and commercial speech. If businesses in your nations are denied access to either type of information, it will inevitably impact on growth.

Increasingly, U.S. companies are making the issue of internet and information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions. I hope that their competitors and foreign governments will pay close attention to this trend. The most recent situation involving Google has attracted a great deal of interest. And we look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions that led Google to make its announcement. And we also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent.

China's Foreign Ministry sharply criticized Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech saying that the United States should "cease using so-called Internet freedom to make groundless accusations against China." Rao Jin, founder of Access China Communication Network, a pro-government Web site, said: "Why do we have to accept the standard of the United States? The attitude of the U.S. is so arrogant. Clinton mentioned one Internet. Actually, it's the Internet of the United States. It's Google of the States." (The Washington Post, 1/23/10, The Huffington Post, 1/22/10)

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