The China Situation: When Politics, Business And Culture Clash

from the ain't-no-easy-solutions dept

For obvious reasons, a lot of folks are talking about the China situation, concerning how big American companies are participating in the government-mandated information blocking. This isn't a new issue. It's been discussed for years. However, with the high profile move of Google entering China, suddenly Congress felt it needed to do something. The reports on the hearings are pretty much what you'd expect. Mock outrage with explanations and discussions of tradeoffs. Much ado about nothing, basically.

What may be much more interesting is the response on all sides. On the US side, there's the question of whether or not this is simply mixing business and politics, and whether the government should be able to try to influence policy in foreign countries via private companies. Over in China, however, there are a few surprises. What's gotten the most attention is China's decision to openly defend its position, claiming its no different than US or European policies trying to protect online users from things that may be dangerous. However, much more surprising, is the news that a number of Chinese politicians are warning the government that taking censorship too far is dangerous -- showing a level of political discourse that often isn't made public.

It's that last piece that provides a good point of discussion. Bill Gates has basically said that China's censorship policy wouldn't work anyway, so there's no use getting upset about it. Realistically, though, all the discussions and issues of moral relevancy and such are distractions from the core issue. It's a question of intent and impact. The intent is always about "protection." In the US it's protection from things that the US government feels is dangerous: porn and such. In China it's protection from things that the Chinese government feels is dangerous: political upheaval. However, the impact is important. Any kind of blocking online presumes that if this kind of information is blocked, everything will be fine. The "issue" goes away. Unfortunately, the reverse is often true. The "issue" simmers and tends to get worse because no one deals with it, and no one is able to talk about it and come up with ways to really deal with it. Jennifer Granick has an excellent piece at Wired News pointing out that everyone's going to be offended by something online. Creating the perfectly unoffensive internet would kill it. So, instead of worrying about that, wouldn't people be a lot better off if, instead of trying to "protect" everyone, we taught everyone how to "protect" themselves -- and understand that not all content online is good? Plenty of it is bad -- but if you learn how to understand the content and put it into context, the impact of the "bad" content can be greatly minimized. And that applies everywhere. The governments won't pay attention, of course. They often have different, much more political, motives. However, if people learned how to be more self-sufficient when it came to understanding and processing information to protect themselves, there'd be a lot less need for governments to feel the need to step in -- for whatever reasons.



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    dorpus, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 1:27pm

    Destructive Fads

    Chinese culture is relatively homogeneous and conformist, similar to Japan. Yesterday, couples all over China got cosmetic surgery to look more like each other as a Valentine's Day present. Chinese culture tends to have a lot of destructive fads like this, along with voodoo-like superstitions -- one year, everybody has to have exotic turtle tails for good luck, the next year, everyone wants to have skin cream made from aborted babies to look younger.

     

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      Informed, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 1:56pm

      Re: Destructive Fads

      I would just like to say that comments like this "Chinese culture tends to have a lot of destructive fads like this, along with voodoo-like superstitions" are not well researched. Just because you read it on the internet does not mean it is true.
      The main concern with censoring material on the internet in China is this: Information is power. The logic is, if we can can keep people from reading out certain ideas, then the people will not be able to be inspired by them.

       

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        dorpus, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 2:14pm

        Re: Destructive Fads

        Conversely, maybe you are the proof that censorship works. As long as the destructive fads are just rumors, then nobody can prove its existence, therefore nobody can point the finger at China. e.g. If Greenpeace or the Religious Right called for a boycott of Chinese products, based on documented cases of such practices, then the economic damage to China will be immense. China censors the internet to both protect its own citizens from destructive fads, and also defend against foreign criticism.


         

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          Tyshaun, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 2:39pm

          Re: Destructive Fads

          Conversely, maybe you are the proof that censorship works. As long as the destructive fads are just rumors, then nobody can prove its existence, therefore nobody can point the finger at China. e.g. If Greenpeace or the Religious Right called for a boycott of Chinese products, based on documented cases of such practices, then the economic damage to China will be immense. China censors the internet to both protect its own citizens from destructive fads, and also defend against foreign criticism.
          I think your rationale for Chinese censorship is a little off base. I don't think the government cares very much about turtle tails, not nearly as much as they do about capitalistic and non-communist ideology. That, I'm fairly certain, is the true thrust behind Chinese censorship. While I agree with most of the sentiment that censorship isn't the true "path", more sophisticated use of the internet is, we must be careful that we don't impose too much Western notions of the duty and rights of government on China. Too often we forget that our theories on the function and role of government are just that, theories. There are still tons of civilizations where government not only has a managerial component but also a religious and sociological role as well. Finally, we can get whoever we want to call for a boycott of Chinese products, I don't think it would be very affective. First, Chinese products are so ubiquitous in our society that we'd have virtually nothing left to loose (take a look around your house for the little "Made in China" label). Second, I would almost say that our economy would suffer as much as theirs, the cost of almost all products would sky rocket due to not having access to the cheap and prolific Chinese labor force.

           

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            dorpus, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 2:55pm

            Re: Destructive Fads

            When you multiply the effect of a fad by 1.3 billion upwardly mobile people, then it is not so trivial. What if abortion clinics all over the world start selling their products to Chinese traders, or elephants start disappearing from Africa because the ivory powder is a popular aphrodisiac? It will have a global political impact. Plenty of countries make the same goods that China makes, so if there is sufficient political will, an economic embargo against China is not out of the question. When managing a fifth of the world's population, a government has social responsibilities.

             

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    Wise One, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 3:13pm

    Those Bastards



    (sarcastic)I thought we were spreading Democrasy, we need to bomb them because they are blocking content to they people, we need to go an liberate them, because they people want this. Who cares if we kill several million of inoccent people, I mean its worht the cause right. They need the freedom of information so we need to make a plot and attack our own army ships and blame it on china so then we can have a reason to go liberate them and spread bullets .. I mean freedom.. I mean whats another war... I call for regime change

    Im sure this is what Bush thinks..

    Lets cace it, other contries have their own ways, just accept it, its no big deal and leave it alone.





     

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    dan, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 3:47pm

    Uncle Sam is at it again

    Most people can't "read between the lines" with the China censorship issue. Hundreds of U.S. businesses have been conforming to the Chinese government for years. So why all the fuss now about Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo? And why limit ourselves to the narrow confines of the search engine industry?

    The answer is simple. Uncle Sam wants control of the internet, and that means getting power over search engines. Google has already snubbed their noses at the Bush administration by deciding not to comply with a search warrant that could have disclosed key information about how search results are displayed.

    Imagine for a moment that the CIA learned how to manipulate search engine results by reverse engineering the Google algorithim that ranks pages. If the CIA or White House could push certain keywords and websites to the top of searches through manipulation, they could more effectively conduct psychological operations if they wanted to.

    Google for their part is following the lead of many other Fortune 500 companies by complying with Chinese government regulations and censorship laws. The ONLY reason it's getting so much attention now is that Uncle Sam is trying to get any kind of leverage it can over the internet's golden boy, Google.

    Prediction: Uncle Sam will push it's anti-google propoganda until Google gives them what they want. Google will probably lose the warrant fight and hand over a few terrabytes of data for the NSA to crunch.

    But it wouldn't be the most corrupt thing they have ever done: http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,635160132,00.html

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 3:58pm

    No Subject Given

    Censorship works as well as copy protection.

    So, the United States can spend untold effort trying to protect intellectual property without success and the Chinese government will spend untold efforts to censor what information it's population can access without success.

    I'll wager that China smartens up and throws in the towel on censorship before we smarten up and throw in the towel on building same-day-cracked protection tools.

     

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      Tyshaun, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 7:41pm

      Re: No Subject Given

      Censorship works as well as copy protection. So, the United States can spend untold effort trying to protect intellectual property without success and the Chinese government will spend untold efforts to censor what information it's population can access without success. I'll wager that China smartens up and throws in the towel on censorship before we smarten up and throw in the towel on building same-day-cracked protection tools.
      Are you kidding? Censorship and information control has worked throughout history. Entire cultures have been controlled by their leadership successfully controlling the flow of information. Hitler managed to convince an already war torn Germany to go BACK to war based on propoganda and controlling dissenting views (mostly by killing them). Just because we'd LIKE to believe the net is an unstoppable force for information dessemination, it just ain't true. If a government tries hard enough, they can definately control what their citizens see. The current Chinese strategy of censoring search engines is stupid but once they figure out that the best way to control the net is to simply restrict the sites that are available to a narrow field of carefully monitored sites, then they've done it. Imagine what you can do if you had absolute control of the internet pipelines coming into a country.

       

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    eskayp, Feb 15th, 2006 @ 8:12pm

    Business, as usual

    The next time some self-professed entrepreneur gets up on his hind legs
    and proclaims how capitalism and commerce are the foundations of freedom and democracy
    it will be time to remind him that Chinese commie thugs and American industry are working hand-in-glove
    to achieve authoritarian control and monitoring of millions of oppressed individuals.
    Has anyone bothered to ask any of those millions whether they want to be continually corraled under Big Brother's microscope?
    The more business gets in bed with government, the more individuals get the shaft.

     

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