Thursday, July 1, 2010

China's Internet "publishing license" -- Hong Kong is no workaround?

The relations between western, especially American Internet companies and especially Google, got a lot of attention in the media this week, with a couple of stories in the Washington Post by Ellen Nakishma and Keith B. Richburg on Wednesday June 30 on p A8, and a newer story today July 1 by Joe MacDonald, reporting that China had blocked the Google’s pre-search “suggest” feature on the mainland, to keep users from being reminded of controversial historical events such as Tinanmen Square. The link for the story is (web url) here.

But earlier the Post had reported on the company’s application for a renewal of its “business license” in China – an operating license to allow it to offer content – and its intention to redirect visitors to a server in Hong Kong which is supposed to be technically legal under Chinese law but which the Chinese might rebuff as an end-around to censorship. The company had been doing so but stopped when warned by China but says it intends to resume.

China accounts for only a small part of the company’s earnings now but with 400 million Internet users that portion would normally be expected to grow.

It’s interesting to remember that after the invention of the printing press, European governments required printers to have a “license to publish”, a fact sometimes pointed out by Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Chinese government may be acting just out of desire to stay in power, or out of an ideological notion about the “responsibility” that should go with speech – or both.

On p A12 of the Washington Post on June 30, Steven Pearlstein provided an op-ed suggesting the use of tariffs to level the economic playing field with China – tracing problems all the way back to Nixon’s 1972 visit and giving credit to China for, it its own statist ways, for lifting billions partway out of poverty.

Update: July 12

Here is the EFF story , "China Gives License to Redirected Search of the Free and Open Internet", link here, and users in China can use unfiltered searches from redirection to  (for Hong Kong).  The 1997 handover has interesting political consequences -- but there is concern that there may be more restrictions we don't know about.

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