U.S. pushes China to explain commercial internet curbs

WASHINGTON Wed Oct 19, 2011 6:05pm EDT

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is pressing China to explain why its "national firewall" blocks so many U.S. companies from providing their services via the Internet, according to a letter obtained on Wednesday that is another sign of growing trade tension between the world's two largest economies.

"Having a presence on the Internet that is visible in China is increasingly a critical element for service suppliers aiming to reach Chinese consumers and business," U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Michael Punke said in a letter to his Chinese counterpart on Monday.

"Some companies based outside of China have faced challenges offering their services to Chinese customers when their websites are blocked by China's national firewall," Punke said, adding that the U.S. government has heard concerns from "a number of service suppliers" about the problem.

China bans numerous websites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and some foreign media outlets, fearing the uncensored sharing of images and information could cause social instability and harm national security.

The so-called "Great Firewall of China" can also cause blockage or slow loading of websites not subject to the ban, and is the source of widespread frustration to users in China.

Punke's letter posed detailed questions on Chinese policy on the Internet, asking how China defines illegal information and requesting that Beijing spell out how it implements the bans and what recourse is available to targeted websites.

"What are the guidelines and criteria for blocking access to foreign websites? How often are these guidelines and criteria changed or published? Where are these guidelines published? Are they made public in advance of their implementation?" read one multi-part question to China's envoy.

The letter stopped short of threatening to bring legal action against China at the WTO.

Ed Black, president of the Washington-based Computer and Industry Communications Association hailed the action as "a huge first step in the process of holding China accountable for imposing unlawful barriers to international trade."

"Chinese Internet restrictions are not transparent, lack procedures that provide parties due process and are often applied more broadly and arbitrarily against non-Chinese companies -- all of which are violations of WTO law that has been agreed to by China," Black said.

Punke took pains to say the United States was not challenging Beijing's restrictions on free speech on the Internet even though Washington believes that "economic and social development of the Internet globally is best served by policies that encourage the free flow of information and prioritize individual empowerment and responsibility."

Punke noted that a June 2010 Chinese government white paper on its internet policy "provided helpful background, but also led to additional questions."

"Further information regarding the laws, regulations and other measures establishing and implementing the Chinese government's polices covering services that can be provided over the Internet would help U.S. companies better serve the Chinese market," he said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Will Dunham and Mohammad Zargham)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (4)
MalikTous wrote:
Explanation is: It’s Communism in action. We should quit the pussyfooting and pandering and hack their ‘national firewall’ to help destroy Communism and restore the proper government of mainland China from Taiwan. Ban ‘Green Dam’ and write malware to destroy China’s censorship abilities!

Oct 19, 2011 1:31pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Eideard wrote:
Sorry, it’s hard to keep a straight face when a troll manages to come up with a McCarthy era solution to all of life’s political problems. I lived through that stupidity and I’m still amazed at the – albeit diminishing – number of yclept clowns refreshing that memory.

Meanwhile – anyone in our government whining about other nations with firewalls? There are dozens. Many of those with more rigidity than China – but, some of those sell us oil. So, it’s OK.

Oh, and someone tell “MalikTous” that the Kuomintang on Taiwan supports increased unity with the PRC.

Oct 19, 2011 6:20pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
aaron.zhang7 wrote:
The national fireware is for Political reason, not economy.

Oct 20, 2011 1:33am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.