Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Will the US bring a complaint in the WTO?

US lodges China censorship complaint

By Richard Waters and Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Daniel Dombey in Washington and Kathrin Hille in Beijing

Published: June 21 2009 22:31 | Last updated: June 21 2009 22:31

The US has complained officially to China over its strict new internet censorship rules as tension builds over an issue causing consternation among international technology companies and Chinese internet users.

The development is a rare direct intervention by the US over internet freedom, which has steadily risen in importance as an issue between the two countries in recent years. US technology companies see it as a back-door way of keeping them out of the Chinese market.

China has ordered PC makers to load internet filtering software from a Chinese company, Green Dam, on all machines on sale from July 1. The order, officially directed at filtering pornography, could give officials far more power to block political content as well.

"We view with concern any attempt to restrict the free flow of information," said Ian Kelly, a State department spokesman.

"Efforts to filter internet content are incompatible with China's aspirations to build a modern, information-based economy and society."

The US embassy in Beijing said representatives had met officials at the ministry of industry and information technology and the ministry of commerce on Friday.

"We are concerned about Green Dam both in terms of its potential impact on trade and the serious technical issues raised by the use of the software," Mr Kelly said. "We have asked the Chinese to engage in a dialogue on how to address these concerns."

Chinese officials took action against Google last week, ordering the search company to block access to international sites.

Beijing claimed the action was a punishment for linking to pornographic material, but US internet executives say it was designed to direct public anger against a foreign service and distract attention from the Green Dam affair. Google has recently gained ground in China on local rival Baidu.

Silicon Valley began to argue for internet censorship to be treated as a trade issue three years ago after Google and Yahoo were publicly embarrassed over accommodations made with Beijing to be allowed to operate in China.

US technology companies have lobbied hard with the State and Commerce departments, and the US trade representative since the Green Dam order.

Solid Oak, a California software company, has sent "cease and desist" letters warning PC companies not to use the Green Dam software which, it says, uses code copied from its own filtering product.

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