China has unilaterally declared that their depute with Google over censorship and strong evidence of government sponsored hacking will not affect U.S. Trade relations, but do they get to make that call?
“Any decision made by Google will not affect Sino-U.S. trade and economic relations, as the two sides have many ways to communicate and negotiate with each other,” Chinese government spokesman Yao Jian told a news briefing in Beijing.
Well of course the two sides have many ways to communicate with each other – that is not the point. If one party to a trade agreement censors and blocks the content of the other party, then of course it should it should be a trade issue. In the tit for tat world of diplomacy, if they block the content from one of our companies, then shouldn’t we block one of theirs?
California buys a huge amount of Chinese imports, but they don’t by nearly as many of our exports. One of our strongest industries in the movie industry – but only 20 foreign films are even allowed to be shown in that country each year. The rest of the movies we produce here are simply pirated (i.e. stolen) there, Can you imagine if we said to China, “we will only allow the products from 20 of your manufacturers in our country each year”. Now they are blocking, and possibly even attacking, one of California’s other great industries – Internet services.
It is not at all disrespectful to China to expect our government to respond to blocking and censorship with reciprocal actions that affect Chinese companies. That is how a mature trade relationship works. Mr. Yao Jian has it wrong. This is exactly the kind of thing that should affect trade and economic relations – this is a trade issue.
UPDATE: Evidence that the Obama Administration may be looking at these blocking and censorship issues from a more sensible “fair trade” perspective, might be found in a speech Secretary of State Clinton plans to give on the issue on Thursday. From a column by Andrew Ross in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:
“The Internet is integral to the international trading system,” said Ed Black, CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, who is scheduled to meet with Clinton on the matter this week. “China cannot limit the free flow of information and still comply with its international trade obligations.” “You can’t lecture the Chinese on human rights,” said another industry executive. “You won’t get anywhere with that. So, it’s best to treat it as a trade issue.”
Should the administration go that route, it will enlarge the can of U.S.-China worms already growing around the latter’s increasingly protectionist economic policies. “Greater control of the Internet is part of a wholesale tightening up of the Chinese economy,” said an executive with a high-tech trade organization that is also due to meet with Clinton. “It’s about protecting domestic industries and pushing indigenous innovation. But they’re doing it in blatantly discriminatory, brazenly unfair ways.”