The Google-Clinton-China circus?

In a typically excellent column, Gady Epstein, the good Forbes columnist (and Beijing bureau chief), looks at Hillary Clinton’s remarks yesterday on Internet freedom, China’s predictably prickly reaction to them, and the effect this all might have on the future of Google in China (as well as the broader issue of Internet freedom in China). I like the way he frames the issue:

Authoritarian regimes have adapted to the Internet, giving people enough freedom online that most have not resisted censorship and controls. was, insidiously, a part of that success in China, stamping an authoritarian system of self-censorship with the Google brand of legitimacy.

Google wants to grab that brand back. Having the U.S. on its side may not help the company’s short-term commercial interests, and it may well embolden hard-liners in China’s government. But as Clinton alluded to Thursday, the U.S. has a brand to protect as well. Many in the world still look to the U.S. for leadership on principles, and the Internet needs it.

“On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress,” Clinton said. “But the United States does.”

Of course 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. The U.S. and Google being on the same side of that struggle? I see that as a good thing.

I do, too. He also links to a must-read column in the Global Times (which he refers to, not without some justification, as “the Communist Party’s new McPaper aimed at foreigners”) that shows us where this is heading – the usual accusations and counter-accusations between the US and China, which threaten to drownout the actual issue of cyberfreedom. I found the GT piece disappointing considering how well the McPaper started off when this issue arose last week:

Google’s “New approach to China,” as spelled out in the title of its recent statement, would do no good to China, either. Should the world’s most populous nation fail to provide a foothold to the world’s top search engine, it would imply a setback to China and serious loss to China’s Net culture. The information highway demands not only safe driving but also free flow of traffic. And, in the interests of the majority’s right to know, free flow of information should take precedence in a civil society.

n a transitional society like China, the existence of censorship can be justified as allowing full play to multifarious and disorderly search results poses unprecedented risks to vulnerable netizens and social stability.

But the government must face up to the challenge of where and how to put the checkpoints on the highway. A sensitive and shrewd government should have the vision and savvy to place the right kind of checkpoints at the right place and at the right time for ensuring the free flow of highway traffic as much as possible in the public.

It almost sounds like a non-Chinese paper! Well, that relatively restrained and objective approach was nice while it lasted. The column Epstein points to today is somewhat less open-minded.

Unlike advanced Western countries, Chinese society is still vulnerable to the effect of multifarious information flowing in, especially when it is for creating disorder.

Western countries have long indoctrinated non-Western nations on the issue of freedom of speech. It is an aggressive political and diplomatic strategy, rather than a desire for moral values, that has led them to do so.

The free flow of information is an universal value treasured in all nations, including China, but the US government’s ideological imposition is unacceptable and, for that reason, will not be allowed to succeed. China’s real stake in the “free flow of information” is evident in its refusal to be victimized by information imperialism.

Oy. Information imperialism indeed. Anybody can put anything they want up on the Internet. The only ones who get hysterical about it are those who are insecure and frightened. You know, sticks and stones….

I loved Hillary’s line, “On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does.” I thought she could have gone further in her speech, but then again, diplomacy is what she’s there for, and that she went as far as she did was enough to whip the CCP into its signature apoplexy. Let’s hope the back-and-forth is short-lived, and that it helps lead to at least some improvement of cyberfreedom in countries that fear it. As Epstein eloquently noted,

The world’s leading superpower and the world’s leading Internet company have made a clear statement that fundamental freedoms–of expression, of assembly–must apply in cyberspace. They have taken note that, as Clinton said Thursday, these freedoms won’t flourish on their own, despite techno-Utopian predictions to the contrary.

So this dialogue is a good thing. The Great Firewall isn’t coming down, not anytime soon, but this adds to the pressure that one day might lead to its long-awaited passing.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 75 Comments

Damn, how did I let this comment get through? Dripping with the stench of trollism.

January 27, 2010 @ 3:03 am | Comment

What about setting up a troll gallery?

January 27, 2010 @ 3:55 am | Comment

Richard, good to let comments like that through. Shows…irony 🙂 He can safely and without fear of consequence say things like that here. In the future he wishes for (assuming he’s a he), what would be his fate?


Pug, I always said that Chitizens can, if they really want to, access the information they want. However, it’s not like here – you have to go through hoops. It’s, by what I’ve been told, like Eastern Europe was. The CCP blocks what it considers dangerous – not what is dangerous. Falun Gong is no more dangerous than Scientology is to the west (and I don’t see how the west is supportive of them…or Tibet or Turkemenistan. Even Her Maj’s government says Tibet is a part of China! Just, incidently, like the Dalai Lama says…). Read this and ask yourself if the “biased” media is pro FG…
I didn’t accuse you of making these policies. I accused you of assuming the position of spokesperson for all the Chinese people. Did you ask them? Conduct a poll among all Chitizens asking them if they are happy and content with censorship? And do you have a link to Bill Gates’ comment?

MAC, last time I was in China (couple of years back) there was no BBC. No Telegraph either…NYT was OK. Independent was fine and ArabNews. But I was only accessing the English versions…

If the Chinese government wants to censor, fine, censor away. Just don’t say how open everything is. If you’re going to lie, make it credible, fer crying out loud. Don’t treat the hoi polloi like idiots, a lot of them aren’t.

January 27, 2010 @ 4:58 am | Comment

What about setting up a troll gallery?

Sometimes I see the entire site as a troll gallery.

January 27, 2010 @ 5:17 am | Comment

If the Chinese government wants to censor, fine, censor away. Just don’t say how open everything is. If you’re going to lie, make it credible, fer crying out loud. Don’t treat the hoi polloi like idiots, a lot of them aren’t.

Since when I treat them like idiots and me being a spokesman for the Chinese people?

January 27, 2010 @ 5:36 am | Comment

Pug…I was referring to the CCP, not you. And about the spokesman….oh forget it. Just read the thread or learn the nuances of English.

Thanks for the link, btw 🙂

January 27, 2010 @ 5:40 am | Comment


If I may, that link in full (it’s not long)

“Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates told ABC’s Good Morning America that Chinese censorship is “very limited” and “easy to go around.” He appeared to take a veiled swipe at Google as well. Gates may be the world’s greatest philanthropist, but when it comes to China, he’s simply wrong.

According to Reuters, Gates said about China:

“You’ve got to decide: Do you want to obey the laws of the countries you’re in, or not? If not, you may not end up doing business there.”

“The Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited. It’s easy to go around it, and so I think keeping the Internet thriving there is very important.”

He’s wrong. The Great Firewall of China is not “very limited;” if it were limited the Chinese government would not bother to spend the amount of time and money it does enforcing Internet censorship. It’s true that there are ways to attempt to circumvent it, such as anonymous proxy servers. But the vast majority of people in China have no idea how to do that. Chinese Internet censorship is not limited at all.

As for obeying the laws of the countries you’re in, that’s clearly a swipe at Google. And Google knows full well that it may not end up operating in China. Kudos to Google for taking such a principled stand against censorship.

It’s also somewhat ironic that Gates is telling Google that you need to obey the laws of the country you operate in, given Microsoft’s history of prosecution in the U.S. and record fines by the European Union for violating anti-trust and monopoly laws.”


January 27, 2010 @ 5:45 am | Comment

If it were limited, we wouldn’t be talking so much about it.

January 27, 2010 @ 7:33 am | Comment

If you can hear the river, it means it is carrying water.

January 27, 2010 @ 7:35 am | Comment

Should I comply with local laws that violate human rights? Should I deliver a person that is going to be stoned to be stoned to death because adultery, an apostate because leaving its religion, a woman to force marriage, a pregnant to forced abortion, or a person to long term prison because freedom of speech or association?

January 27, 2010 @ 7:45 am | Comment

Hillary Clinton couldn’t even track her own husband, and she’s purporting to dictate to the world how to live and what to do? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Get real. She has the *balls* (literally) to stand up and pretend to fight Internet censorship when this post is being pulled off US and UK websites quicker than you can say “Monica Lewinski”?

This is the biggest crock of propaganda ever spewed out of the White House. Google was a major contributor to the Obama campaign. China has the largest Internet population in the world. The *supposed* attack on Google was not sophisticated, if there was one at all which most with half a brain in the US understand. The CIA, SS, APNIC & CERT were all well aware of the so called port scans and “alleged” hacks supposedly originating from “China” and have been so for years, and have done nothing – the block of IP addresses they supposedly came from have contact information that is invalid, and could have easily been set up by anyone, anywhere. APNIC is well aware the IP address is registered with invalid information (FYI, APNIC is in Australia). It is, after all, good for the US economy to sell security software and keep whatever software developers that are left here in the US in work. And why should China worry about it – they do, after all, own 51% of Symantec. The first report of these hacks and scans came from a supposed “Congressional Aide” on some hokey political site over a year ago. This is nothing new. China has the world’s largest Internet population in the world, and Google stands to lose astronomical amounts of potential revenue with porn being their biggest money generating source. Google forgets China is their *customer* and regardless of what WE want and like, it is China’s choice what *they* want and like, and certainly not Hillary Clinton’s. And frankly, China should not and does not care, and will hopefully take it for the stupidity it really is, since there has been NO substantiation to Google’s claim – no details, no information except to say it happened. C’mon now.

Our US Internet infrastructure security is a joke here, in fact if one calls the White House and asks to speak with the “Cyber Czar” office, they will tell you they don’t even know what a cyber czar is. Any offending IP block that’s been scanning ports worldwide can be easily blocked, but have not been. No need to read this whole list – just look at hu is Number One and scroll down to the very bottom to see who is last:

And we’re telling the rest of the world how to live?

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo all paid the Obama campaign a great deal of money, and now they want their returns. And Microsoft even has their hand out for stimulus monies and *took it* so they could build a building to building bridge for their employees for starters – with *taxpayers* money. This Obama administration has been bought and paid for to do Google’s marketing. Pathetic, indeed. And now the Google sissies are hiding behind Nanny Clinton’s skirts like spoiled toddlers who want Mommy to fight their playground battles. The biggest joke of all is she is!

Do understand there are many American citizens that realize Clinton’s bizarre speech for what it is – a payback to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo for the large campaign contributions, pimping them out like a back alley hooker.

Hillary Clinton hosted a Secretary of State dinner for Google not too long ago, spending tons of mental energy and taxpayers’ non-existent money on who’s allowed to see what, where and when online, when we’ve got a neighboring Nation experiencing the worst natural disaster in history shows the true colors of our current US leaders and what they are focusing on. No respect for the people and lives lost in Haiti, to stand up in the middle of it all with the “Clinton Doctrine” in the middle of that nightmare. God help us all.

January 27, 2010 @ 8:48 am | Comment

“She has the *balls* (literally) to stand up and pretend to fight Internet censorship when this post is being pulled off US and UK websites quicker than you can say “Monica Lewinski”?”

Ummm…how come I can read it still? Or is NZ different?


Can’t wait for this Google-China to become proper history – make for an intresting read 😀

January 27, 2010 @ 9:16 am | Comment

Rosie, where do commenters like you come from? Which gate of hell did you use to get here?

January 27, 2010 @ 9:21 am | Comment


Bill Gates’s search engine, bing, is already practicing self-censorship. Shhhh… Just between you and me, you are not supposed to know.

January 27, 2010 @ 10:29 am | Comment

Pugsy, probably practising for China 😀

January 27, 2010 @ 10:41 am | Comment

Someone draw a 5 point star with goat blood on unholy ground, lighted a black candle and then sacrificed a virgin.

January 27, 2010 @ 2:36 pm | Comment

A virgin duck I mean

January 27, 2010 @ 2:41 pm | Comment

Rosie’s crackpot rantings offer fine evidence to our Chinese friends that human beings are perfectly free to be stupid or weird (Falungong, for a Chinese example) as long as they do no harm to anybody. The market of good common sense can almost always sort out ideas without censorship.

January 28, 2010 @ 1:14 am | Comment

If pug_ster wanted to know the score on Bing, he could have: “So, you just have to follow the link that says “Safe Search Moderate” to set the option that appeals to you.”

Perhaps two many heads in China WOULD explode if presented with unvarnished or uncensored truths on many given issues. Censorship starts to make sense in the Chinese context.

January 28, 2010 @ 1:19 am | Comment

I’d carry the argument further, but got an email from a friend with some lines I should pay attention to… Here’s a pertinent one 😉

“Don’t argue with an idiot; people watching may not be able to tell the difference.”

January 28, 2010 @ 4:31 am | Comment

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Keep believing that what you are doing are ‘freeing the minds’ from the Chinese Netizens. Like I said, most of them just don’t give a damn.

Meanwhile my tax dollars are subsidizing these Chinese Netizens and disgruntled foreign expats getting uncensored internet access in China.

January 28, 2010 @ 2:19 pm | Comment

The people don’t care, the government does…indeed, it does to the extent of cutting off the internet to whole regions.
One could have fun with this 😀

January 28, 2010 @ 4:56 pm | Comment

From India

Lots of China stories in the Times of India. Interesting to see what they think 🙂

January 29, 2010 @ 5:29 am | Comment

Interesting OP-ED article

so the hack spoofed a US mandated backdoor that allows for the scanning of personal information. no wonder why the US political reaction was so quick.

January 30, 2010 @ 6:34 am | Comment

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