Is censorship bad for business? How trade laws could break through China’s Great Firewall

(From Mercator Institute For China Studies)

The US claims that China’s internet controls may violate the rules of global trade. This line of argument exposes a dilemma for China’s leaders who struggle to uphold an increasingly authoritarian system in an era of deepening international integration.

By George G. Chen

The publication of the Panama Papers made headlines around the world, just not in China. The country’s censors worked hard to block the entire nation from accessing information about the secret wealth and financial dealings of family members of its political leaders. These leaders view it as a matter of national security to shield the public from those divisive revelations, and they reject foreign criticism of China’s interdiction of free flows of information as meddling in another country’s internal affairs.

great-firewallThe United States has now opened a new line of attack against China’s censorship regime. Human rights arguments aside, could China’s internet controls constitute a trade barrier? In its annual National Trade Estimate Report, the Office of the United States Trade Representative included the Chinese internet filters and blocks in a list of impediments foreign businesses face in China.

Controlling public discourse and foreign competitors

The report labels China’s internet regulations as “restrictive and non-transparent” and describes them as a burden on China’s trading partners, “hurting both internet sites themselves and users who often depend on them for business”. In other words: controlling public discourse may be one motivation behind China’s censorship regime – the other may be to keep foreign competition at bay. Read more



Categories: Asia Unhedged, China

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