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Sunday, February 19, 2006

China's Cyberdissidents and the 'Gang of Four'

Peking Duck has Kristof's column on "China's Cyberdissidents and the Yahoos at Yahoo" in full, and AsiaPundit provides the commentary:

kristof on the 'gang of four', by Myrick, AsiaPundit: Via Peking Duck, who has helpfully republished an un-linkble New York Times item, Nicholas Kristof weighs in on the four best-known companies that are assisting in the censorship of the internet in China, who are now unfortunately being referred to as the 'Gang of Four.'

Yahoo sold its soul and is a national disgrace. It is still dissembling, and nobody should touch Yahoo until it provides financially for the families of the three men (ed: Three!?! AsiaPundit was still counting two.) it helped lock up and establishes annual fellowships in their names to bring Web journalists to America on study programs.

Microsoft has also been cowardly, but nothing like Yahoo. Microsoft responded to a Chinese request by recently shutting down the outspoken blog of Michael Anti (who now works for the New York Times Beijing bureau). Microsoft also censors sensitive words in the Chinese version of its blog-hosting software...

Cisco sells equipment to China that is used to maintain censorship controls, but as far as I can tell similar equipment is widely available, including from Chinese companies like Huawei. Cisco also enthusiastically peddles its equipment to the Chinese police. In short, Cisco in China is a bit sleazy but nothing like Yahoo.

GoolagGoogle strikes me as innocent of wrongdoing. True, Google has offered a censored version of its Chinese search engine... (and thus will not be slowed down by filters and other impediments that now make it unattractive to Chinese users). But Google also kept its unexpurgated (and thus frustratingly slow) Chinese-language search engine available, so in effect its decision gave Chinese Web users more choices rather than fewer.

Kristof is very close to AsiaPundit's own thinking on this. Google's move into the China market has received the most attention - in no small part due to the "don't be evil" target it has tattooed on its forehead. But its actions were the least objectionable. In the context of moves by its predecessors, Google could even be seen as progressive. Google's main portal does not redirect to the censored China service and it is more transparent than anyone else in the market about the fact that it censors its China site. Google did not damage freedom of speech or information in China - all it did was damage its brand.

While Yahoo may have been unaware of the implications of its co-operation with Chinese authorities, after Shi Tao and Li Zhi 'incidents' it can no longer defend itself by claiming ignorance. It can properly claim that it has no legal liability when future incidents occur due to Alibaba's ownership of its China operations. As distasteful as that may seem, that is as things should be. Opening a minority shareholder to legal actions would set a dangerous precedent. But morally, as Yahoo does have a 40 percent holding in Alibaba, in AsiaPundit's view Yahoo will be 40 percent complicit should journalists or dissidents be jailed in the future.

Michael Anti, translation via ESWN, pens a critique of Congress and defense of Microsoft and Google. However, he does save some venom for Yahoo.:

At the end of my statement, I must state once again that I have mentioned only Microsoft and Google as the American companies, but it is definitely not Yahoo!  A company such as Yahoo! which gives up information is unforgivable.  It would be for the good of the Chinese netizens if such a company could be shut down or get out of China forever.

...(UPDATE: Would China better off without the censored Google? For a hint read Google vs Baidu. AsiaPundit thinks  'Would Google be better off without China?' is a better question.)

    Posted by on Sunday, February 19, 2006 at 10:29 AM in China, Economics, Technology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (3)

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