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How to Free the Chinese Internet
Focus on Businesses, not Dissidents
DAVID ROBINSON is a principal at Robinson + Yu. He is a coauthor of the recent report Collateral Freedom: A Snapshot of Chinese Users Circumventing Censorship, which was conducted by the Open Internet Tools Project.See more by this author
The Chinese Internet is becoming a walled garden -- an Orwellian environment, separated from the rest of the global Web, where information unfavorable to the government simply disappears, public discussions are shaped by undercover agents, and censorship and surveillance are built into the most popular online services.
This system is bad for the United States, not just because it contradicts American values and holds back China’s political liberalization but also because it harms U.S. businesses. Part of the problem is that U.S.-based online services, such as Facebook and Twitter, are blocked from reaching Chinese consumers, but the true stakes are much larger: Every American business that operates in China needs a secure, fast, and reliable Internet connection. And China’s censorship system puts these connections at risk.
The core of China’s repressive online system is its so-called Great Firewall, which makes large sections of the Internet unreachable from the Chinese mainland and steers Chinese users toward censored domestic sites. As part of its worldwide “Internet freedom” agenda, the United States has funded the creation of special software tools to help Chinese dissidents, journalists, and other users for whom privacy is paramount sneak through their government’s barriers. This focus on human rights, high-risk users, and customized software has worked well in some countries, but in China, U.S. policymakers need to take a broader view.