Green Dam Follow up – Stopping China Through the WTO
Senior U.S. trade officials called on China to revoke an order for personal computers to be shipped with Web-filtering software, saying the requirement could conflict with Beijing’s obligations under the World Trade Organization.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke urged the Chinese government to reverse its decision in a joint letter submitted to two Chinese ministries Wednesday. The letter said the software rule also raised concerns about censorship and Internet security.
It was the highest-level U.S. complaint so far against the rule, which is due to take effect July 1 and has already angered free-speech advocates and industry groups. The letter, sent separately to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Commerce, said the Chinese move raises “fundamental questions” about regulatory transparency and compliance with a number of WTO rules. WTO rules include agreements that are meant to prevent governments from erecting protectionist barriers to trade.
“China is putting companies in an untenable position by requiring them, with virtually no public notice, to pre-install software that appears to have broad-based censorship implications and network security issues,” Mr. Locke said, according to a statement.
The U.S. letters “expressed that the U.S. government is seriously concerned about the Green Dam [requirement], including wide-ranging concerns about the scope of the measure, the censorship implications, trade impact and security flaws which create serious problems for the IT industry and Chinese consumers,” a U.S. official said.
The official indicated concerns have been magnified by the Chinese government’s unwillingness to explain the intent and scope of the new measure, which was introduced at short notice. On Friday, U.S. officials from the State and Commerce departments, as well as U.S. Trade Representative officials based in Beijing, met with officials from the MIIT and Ministry of Commerce to express concerns that Green Dam would restrict access to the Internet and infringe on “internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression,” a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency Wednesday quoted Jinhui’s founder, Bryan Zhang, as saying his company received more than 1,000 harassing calls from inside and outside China, as well as attacks by hackers, since the Green Dam requirement was made public this month.
“Most of the calls came at late night, cursing our staff and uttering obscenities, voicing their resentment against the software,” Xinhua quoted Mr. Zhang as saying.
While Western concerns regarding “freedom of expression” in China always “touches” my heart at some levels – this latest development to me smacks of more attempts to interfere with Chinese government power to regulate its own internal affairs.
The U.S. is claiming that China’s requiring Green Dam to be provided with new computers (whether installed on the computer or provided on an installation CD – I’m leaving that debate alone here) inhibits trade. Providing Green Dam is allegedly so complex that China should have notified the WTO earlier and given foreign firms more time to prepare for the change in the name of fair trade.
This is absurd…
Do you know how many pre-installed software usually ships with a computer box (even the cheapest ones) these days? Utilities, multimedia applications, Internet programs, office suites, internet access, antivirus-antiphishing-antispyware software, browsers, games, etc., etc. The fact that these computer manufacturers now have to provide one more software now makes trade with China unfairly burdensome?
If Green Dam is burdensome, perhaps the installation of Chinese versions of OS and various software in computers to be sold in China should also all be considered a burden?
I am not advocating for Green Dam (as I have admitted in a previous comment, I don’t like Green Dam), but I am advocating against using whatever opportunity available (Green Dam in this case) to smear and attack China. Besides, in this case, hijacking the WTO for political expediency is not only disingenuous, but also hogs up precious resources that can better be deployed to solve real economic problems – such as the world financial crisis.
It is highly unlikely that this tactic by the U.S. would scare the Chinese government. China has come a long way in the last 10-15 years and now has pretty strong WTO expertise herself. The U.S. could have started a conversation about the censorship software requirement with the Chinese government, but instead chooses now to make a scene.
Irrespective of where you stand with respect to Green Dam, does everyone agree with me that the WTO is not the place to take up political issues such as censorship?
Or do some people think that WTO is a perfectly legitimate forum to bring all issues touched by trade – including political issues such as censorship, human rights, democracy, etc.?
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