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    President Obama Must Press China on Web Censorship

    by Clothilde Le Coz
    November 10, 2009

    In China, Google is forced to censor its search engine, Facebook and Twitter are blocked, U.S. news agencies are barred from selling their services freely, and foreign investment in the media industry is closely watched. Yet when President Obama visits the country in a few days, it’s unknown if he will publicly pressure the Chinese government on issues of censorship or free expression.

    The president yesterday defended his position on these issues, saying, “We believe in the values of freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion, that are not just core American values but we believe are universal values.”

    Obama has a responsibility to advocate for freedom and democracy, and he should do so publicly when he visits China."

    This is a critical time for him to speak up because China appears to be increasing its efforts to censor Internet content, while also cracking down on journalists and bloggers. At the same time, the Obama administration has been sending mixed signals on democracy and human rights to China. For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted the 20th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, and called on the Chinese government to “provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal.” But she also celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China by congratulating the Party for its “truly historic accomplishment” of “lifting millions of people out of poverty.”

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    Meanwhile, Yang Zili, a young engineer who spent eight years in prison, recently urged President Obama to intercede on behalf of two colleagues still being held in custody. Their offense? Creating a website.

    It’s true that gratuitous criticism towards China rarely produces results; but excessive restraint is also ineffective. Human right issues cannot be raised only in private, which is why it’s important to review some of China’s recent abuses of freedom of expression, and its renewed efforts at online censorship.

    Cyber-Dissidents in Jail

    Beginning around 2003, the Internet started emerging as a major tool for exposing corruption and abuse of power, and for putting pressure on China’s central and provincial governments. Today, China has the largest population of Internet users on the planet. It also has 58 cyber-dissidents in jail. In terms of press freedom, China is ranked 168th in Reporters Without Borders’ 2009 World Press Freedom Index, out of 175 countries.

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    In Xinjiang, Chinese authorities launched a crackdown that includes blocking many forms of Internet communication. The region’s Internet has been reduced to an intranet that prevents Uyghurs from providing the outside world with detailed information about their situation.

    In October, Reporters Without Borders surveyed the level of access provided to websites dedicated to the Uyghur community. These sites, operated by Uyghurs for Uyghurs, are for the most part inaccessible to Internet users based in Xinjiang, and those abroad. More than 85 percent of the surveyed sites were blocked, censored or otherwise unreachable.

    On Oct. 1, 2009, Hailaite Niyazi, an Uyghur journalist and the former editor of the Uighurbiz website, was arrested. His family was told three days later that he was suspected of “endangering national security.” His arrest appears to have been prompted by an interview he gave about the Xinjiang regional government’s attitude towards recent riots. (In the past, authorities have accused Uighurbiz of “encouraging violence” in Xinjiang.)

    In Tibet, there have been ongoing arrests and trials of journalists, bloggers and Internet users since March 2008. Three young Tibetans from the village of Dara have been held in jail since early October, when they were arrested for allegedly sending information about Tibet to contacts outside of the country.

    Erecting Dams on the Internet

    Silencing dissidents is only one part of China’s censorship strategy. Last summer, the Chinese government introduced “Green Dam,” new piece of filtering software. Chinese officials claim it’s designed to protect children from pornographic content online. However, a study of Green Dam by the OpenNet Initiative showed that its key-word filtering was not very effective for porn, yet it was very good at blocking political, cultural and news websites, among other targets.

    More recently, Internet service providers in the southern province of Guangdong have been installing a new type of filtering software called Landun (which translates to “Blue Shield” or “Blue Dam”). It’s even more powerful than its problematic predecessor. According to an article in the Hong-Kong based Apple Daily, Chinese network providers were given until September 13 to install Blue Shield and avoid being sanctioned. Blue Shield is said to be more powerful than Green Dam and its installation is obligatory, not optional, as the authorities had reportedly promised. It is intended to provide stronger protection against porn sites and to increase the monitoring and filtering capabilities of Internet connections.

    i-2958c0e9f213e6d59cf5e38c1e685c36-David_Wu_2007_169x222.jpg
    David Wu

    Congress has taken notice of China’s stepped-up efforts to control the web. In June, Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) introduced a resolution “expressing grave concerns about the sweeping censorship, privacy, and cyber-security implications of China’s Green Dam filtering software, and urging U.S. high-tech companies to promote the Internet as a tool for transparency, freedom of expression, and citizen empowerment around the world.”

    Chinese Censorship: Made in the USA?

    American firms are also involved in Chinese censorship. Cisco Systems helped build the entire Chinese Internet infrastructure, including the mechanisms to censor the web. Yahoo aided the Chinese government in jailing four dissidents by giving their personal data to Chinese authorities. Speaking to shareholders at the Yahoo annual meeting in June, CEO Carol Bartz was questioned about the company’s policies in China in light of Green Dam and other controversies.

    “We made a mistake, and you can’t hold us up as the bad boy forever,” she said, referring to the release of information that led to the arrest of the journalists. “It’s not our job to fix the Chinese government. It’s that simple.”

    Maybe it’s not Yahoo’s job. But President Obama has a responsibility to advocate for freedom and democracy, and he should do so publicly when he visits China on November 15.

    Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the “Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents,” published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

    Tagged: china dissidents free speech freedom of the press president obama
    • JVB

      Why all the disapproval over how Obama conducts himself as an American in other countries? The members of the media have made it very clear they love him just the way he is and so far he’s done nothing that would indicate he’s a staunch supporter of American values or democracy…he talks down about the United States and apologizes all over himself for being American…so why the sudden change when it comes to China? If he’ll kiss a sheik and chop Americans off at the knees in Europe…please. China practically owns us…don’t expect him to be all Pro-American when it comes to them, especially!

    • JVB

      Why all the disapproval over how Obama conducts himself as an American in other countries? The members of the media have made it very clear they love him just the way he is and so far he’s done nothing that would indicate he’s a staunch supporter of American values or democracy…he talks down about the United States and apologizes all over himself for being American…so why the sudden change when it comes to China? If he’ll kiss a sheik and chop Americans off at the knees in Europe…please. China practically owns us…don’t expect him to be all Pro-American when it comes to them, especially! And besides…censorship isn’t just a communist issue!

    • jewelry wholesalers

      Really, I agree that China should not ban the certain web portal. As people are free to use and view any content.

    • If he’ll kiss a sheik and chop Americans off at the knees in Europe…please. China practically owns us…don’t expect him to be all Pro-American when it comes to them, especially! And besides…censorship isn’t just a communist issue!

    • JORVIK

      Will president Obama be capable of accessing to his Facebook and twitter during his trip to China? Having messianic zeal for the antidote, president Obama, massive numer of netizens in China are anticipating his efforts to pressure the government to unblock these forbidden websites.

    • Mark

      The China government wants global business, they want to be more powerful, and they want more influence. As a result, they “pretend” to be a Free Trade type of country, yet they block their own people from free trade of thoughts and ideas. The censorship of media is hidden from the Chinese. A majority of the people living in China don’t know they are being blocked because all they’re exposed to is the propaganda the government feeds them. I’m surprised the Olympics didn’t have more of an impact in opening their eyes. The Chinese people deserve better, they deserve true freedom. Hopefully we can help in a small way by addressing it on the internet.

      Mark Hanover
      ProxyHeaven.CN

    • Mark

      The China government wants global business, they want to be more powerful, and they want more influence. As a result, they “pretend” to be a Free Trade type of country, yet they block their own people from free trade of thoughts and ideas. The censorship of media is hidden from the Chinese. A majority of the people living in China don’t know they are being blocked because all they’re exposed to is the propaganda the government feeds them. I’m surprised the Olympics didn’t have more of an impact in opening their eyes. The Chinese people deserve better, they deserve true freedom. Hopefully we can help in a small way by addressing it on the internet.

      Mark Hanover
      ProxyHeaven.CN

    • billy37

      Looks like Obama is in for a toughie with this one how will he satisfy both the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama. Here’s an interesting angle.
      http://ketiva.com/News_and_Events/china__turns_to_lincoln_to_try_to_prevent_an_obama__dalai_lama_meeting.html

    • billy37

      Looks like Obama is in for a toughie with this one how will he satisfy both the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama. Here’s an interesting angle.
      http://ketiva.com/News_and_Events/china__turns_to_lincoln_to_try_to_prevent_an_obama__dalai_lama_meeting.html

    • Obama and America’s banker Hu-Jintao

      November 17, 2009 by politicalsnapshots.wordpress.com

      Obama and America’s banker Hu-Jintao

      “As with any nation, America will approach China with a focus on our interests. And it is precisely for this reason that it is important to pursue pragmatic cooperation with China on issues of mutual concern — because no one nation can meet the challenges of the 21st century alone, and the United States and China will both be better off when we are able to meet them together. “

      But, all nations are not of equal importance to the national interests of the U.S. Some are more equal than others. The United States of America needs China more than ever as China is the engine that is driving the stimulus package in the U.S. China is the largest holder of U.S. Treasuries to the tune of $800 billion dollars.

      Times have changed. Even though, the U.S. is still the top dog, more than ever it needs the support and council of other nations (as in Iraq, Afghanistan, N. Korea, Iran, Somalia, etc). When it comes to the economy of the U.S. most of all, America needs China. America’s version of Capitalism, (anarcho-capitalism: an economic system that destroys government regulation of the economy, and creates anarchy within the global economic system) is a disaster.

      Anarcho-Capitalism created an atmosphere where a criminal and an immoral greed were allowed to grow and create havoc within the U.S. economy. The U.S. economy was on the verge of collapse. The U.S. government was forced in to infusing billions of dollars in to the economy to save the day. For this, the support of China to jump start the economy of the U.S. was exceptionally critical.

      President Obama comprehends China’s decisive role in saving America’s economy. His ambitious commitment to strengthening the U.S. economy has no choice but to cooperate with China. The Chinese on their part need a strong U.S. economy, as it is their lucrative market.

      Finally, what is humorous in all this, is the fact that the Chinese are lecturing to America, to save more, to reduce its deficits, and not to continuously print the dollar.

      Professor Mekonen Haddis.

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