It’s been little over a week since the beginning of the spat between Google and China over censorship and hacking attacks. But that was more than enough time for the fracas to escalate into international political tensions and name-calling.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined in today. In a wide-ranging speech in Washington, Mrs Clinton said the internet had been a “source of tremendous progress” in China but that any country which restricted free access to information risked “walling themselves off from the progress of the next century” [BBC News]. In taking a foreign policy stand on information freedom, she also singled out other countries that she says harass bloggers or promote censorship and called on other companies to follow Google’s lead in taking a stand against restrictive governments.
“A new information curtain is descending across much of the world,” she said, calling growing Internet curbs the modern equivalent of the Berlin Wall [Reuters].
China, unamused at being called out, shot back. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu this morning warned, “The U.S. side had criticized China’s policies on Internet administration, alluding that China restricts Internet freedom. We firmly oppose such words and deeds, which were against the facts and would harm the China-U.S. relations” [ABC News]. The Chinese government referred to Clinton’s foreign policy stand as “information imperialism,” and called her allegations groundless.
The public strife started last week when Google threatened to pull out of China if the country didn’t change its censorship policies or do something about the China-based attacks against Google and other American tech companies. That was an about-face from 2006, when Google agreed to censorship demands to enter the Chinese market. But Google may not have realized then that the Chinese government would alter the bargain by demanding stricter censorship or blocking other Google services — or that Chinese hackers would launch a widespread, well-orchestrated series of attacks on its computers [Washington Post].
For some observers, Sec. Clinton telling China to tear down this firewall is a struggle that will go far beyond the two nations. This fight is about much more than China vs. the U.S, or even China vs. Google. It is about a future of nation-states, corporations and other nonstate actors struggling to define liberty on the Internet [Forbes].
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Image: Wikimedia Commons / M. Weitzel