China: Information ‘no through road’

When the internet first arrived in China in the 1990s, it was hoped a free and uncontrolled world wide web would help transform the world’s most populous country into a more open society. Today, China is widely recognised as having developed the most advanced system of internet repression in the world, and instead of the internet transforming China, many are now in fact wondering if it is not China that is going to transform the internet.Western information technology (IT) firms have played a crucial role in the setting up of China’s internet “model”. This is despite the fact that these firms are among the strongest defenders of free speech in the West, and seem to believe, in all apparent honesty, that they are a force for good in the world. Microsoft releases a yearly citizenship report, which in 2003 declared: “responsible corporate citizenship is defined by good behaviour, not good intentions”. Yahoo! claims that it is “committed to providing individuals with easy access to information and opportunities to openly communicate and exchange views and opinions”. And of course, Google has chosen for itself a motto that is highly principled: “Don’t be evil”. All these noble ideals seem to evaporate once these companies start dealing with China.

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