In my experience, you should generally be skeptical
of organizations trying to force foreign countries to do things due to "trade agreements." This is one of the most common tricks used by the entertainment industry to push for monopolies in the name of free trade
. So, consider me skeptical on a new argument raised by a California group suggesting that the WTO stop China from censoring the internet
because it somehow violates a free trade agreement. While it's admirable to come up with a reason to put pressure on China over its online censorship, this opens up a very dangerous slippery slope. Should this actually get anywhere, it would be just as easy for other countries to accuse the US of similar things with its laws. It's even more ridiculous when you consider that the US itself has been ignoring
similar trade agreement violation rulings from the WTO concerning Antigua and online gambling. Yes, it would be a good thing if China backed down from censoring the internet -- but using trade agreements as a lever to put pressure on China doesn't seem like a good idea. The chances of it being effective are minute, and even if it is effective, it simply will open up a number of other trade disputes that are probably better left alone.
Of course, an approach that's even less likely to be successful is the one proposed by barely-registering-in-the-polls presidential candidate Chris Dodd, who showed up at Google and suggested the company voluntarily leave China
. As is noted in the article, this doesn't do much to actually help China, as Google users in that country would then just be forced to use an even more restrictive search engine -- which, if anything, would probably make the Chinese government even happier. It's great to take a principled stand -- but if you don't bother to think through the reactions and responses and the incentives you're creating, it's not going to do much good in the long run.