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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Yahoo isn't the only villain

November 9, 2007

The Internet giant is just one of many tech firms propping up China's
totalitarian ways.
By Peter Navarro

Los Angeles Times
November 8, 2007
Which company has committed the greater evil? Yahoo Inc. helped send a
reporter to prison by revealing his identity to the Chinese government.
Cisco Systems Inc. helps send thousands of Chinese dissidents to prison
by selling sophisticated Internet surveillance technology to China.

If bad press is to be the judge, the "stool pigeon" Yahoo is clearly the
bigger villain. In 2004, after the Chinese government ordered the
country's media not to report on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen
Square protests, journalist Shi Tao used his Yahoo e-mail account to
forward a government memo to a pro-democracy group. When China's
Internet police -- a force of 30,000 -- uncovered this, it pressured
Yahoo to reveal Shi's identity. Yahoo caved quicker than you can say
Vichy France, and Shi is doing 10 years in a Chinese slammer for one
click of his subversive mouse.

For ratting out Shi, Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang has been dragged
before Congress, called a "moral pygmy" and forced to issue an apology.
In contrast, Cisco and Chief Executive John Chambers have received
little public scrutiny for providing China's cadres of Comrade Orwells
with the Internet surveillance technology they need to cleanse the Net
of impure democratic thoughts.

Cisco is hardly alone in helping China keep the jackboot to the neck of
its people. Skype, an EBay Inc. subsidiary, helps the Chinese government
monitor and censor text messaging. Microsoft Corp. likewise is a willing
conscript in China's Internet policing army, as Bill Gates' minions
regularly cleanse the Chinese blogosphere. Google Inc.'s brainiacs,
meanwhile, have built a special Chinese version of their powerful search
engine to filter out things as diverse as the BBC, freeing Tibet and
that four-letter word in China -- democracy.

Business executives have justified their actions with a "when in China,
do as the Chinese do" defense. To do business in China, these executives
insist, they must comply with local laws. But China's local laws often
force executives to make moral and ethical choices that would be
intolerable in the West.

The broader problem is that American business executives have little
training in how to deal with ethics in a corrupt and totalitarian global
business environment -- blame U.S. business schools for that. As a
result, moral horizons tend to be short, and executives who find
themselves in the heat of a battle don't know where to draw the line,
which is what happened to Yahoo.

Some executives also trot out the "constructive engagement" defense.
This too-clever-by-half idea is that companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft,
Skype and Cisco are actually pro-democracy elements because they are
helping build China's Internet. Even though these companies collaborate
through self-censorship and assist with Internet surveillance, the
greater effect is to build free speech -- or so the argument goes.

What's missing from the American corporate perspective is this bigger
picture: The collaborative tools that U.S. corporations provide to spy
on, and silence, the Chinese people are far more likely to help prop up
a totalitarian regime than topple it.

With American corporate help, China remains the world's biggest prison.
As reported by the Laogai Research Foundation, millions of dissidents
languish in Chinese-style gulags known as laogai, and thanks in part to
U.S. corporations, their numbers are growing.

In addition, human rights abuses are both systematic and endemic in
China. From Catholics and Muslims to the Falun Gong, from pro-democracy
voices and investigative journalists to the Free Tibet movement, the
penalty for being caught for banned religious or political expression is
arrest, beatings and sometimes death.

For all these reasons, it is ultimately shortsighted to single out Yahoo
for the kind of behavior now common to many big U.S. companies operating
in China. That's why we need to have a much bigger discussion about how
to engage economically and politically with China. It's also why the
proposed Global Online Freedom Act, which would make it unlawful for
U.S. companies to filter Internet search results or turn over user
information, should not be viewed as a magic bullet but rather as the
start of that debate.

Peter Navarro is a business professor at UC Irvine and the author of
"Coming China Wars."

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