Censorship

Suing Yahoo for Abetting Chinese Gov't

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The Wash Times reports on the story of Wang Xiaoning, who "has been sitting in a Chinese prison since September 2002. He is serving a 10-year sentence for using the Internet to advocate democracy" via a series of articles critical of the Beijing regime.

His wife, Yu Ling, is in the U.S. looking for legal representation to go after Yahoo, which she claims provided evidence key to convicting her husband in Chinese courts. "I have to help my husband," she told the Times. "I hope Yahoo is punished and the other companies learn from it."

It seems highly unlikely that the case will be successful. Among other things, Yahoo is a minority partner in its own China business. But the Times lays out some interesting questions:

The China dilemma—the question of whether a company should, as a cost of doing business in a repressive but potentially lucrative country, cooperate with government officials and agree to censorship—is an issue that Internet companies in particular are grappling with and not unique to Yahoo. Rival Internet companies Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are required to filter content in China as well….

"The question that is really up in the air is how much you can associate a private corporation with the actions of a government," says Barry Carter, a Georgetown University Law Center professor who has written casebooks on international law.

In one pending case, known as the "apartheid lawsuit," up to 100 U.S. and international companies are being sued for selling equipment to South Africa's white dictatorship and lending it money. The case, currently on appeal, says corporations such as IBM helped the racist regime stay in power.

"The companies in a way are a proxy for the government because you can't sue the government," Mr. Carter adds.

At this point, Yahoo says only that it "condemns punishment of any activity recognized as freedom of expression. We have expressed our strong feelings about such actions to the Chinese government as well as the U.S. State Department."

Whole thing here.

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  1. In one pending case, known as the “apartheid lawsuit,” up to 100 U.S. and international companies are being sued for selling equipment to South Africa’s white dictatorship and lending it money. The case, currently on appeal, says corporations such as IBM helped the racist regime stay in power.

    Just wait until post-Castro Cuba sues the United States for not doing business.

  2. While it is easy to condemn corporations for making money in oppressive countries, I can’t imagine a better engine for social change than the ideas spread through the marketplace. It isn’t scientific or conclusive, but China has evolved tremendously since the 1970′ when America opened a dialog. Cuba? Not so much.

  3. Connecting the dots between this story and the FBI National Security Letter scandal, does this mean we can sue Yahoo and Google when they hand over the internet records of critics of our own repressive regime? Or perhaps of those subversives using the internet for a super bowl bet?

  4. but China has evolved tremendously since the 1970′ when America opened a dialog

    Please. All that’s happened is that the Party has gotten stinking rich by manufacturing everything for America while trampling all over the masses, same as ever. The censorship is bad enough, but actively helping the government go after “offenders” is just disgusting. I’m sure the companies have no choice & it’s a matter of “tell us who it is or get out of China” but… I don’t know how these people can sleep at night.

  5. It’s a double edged sword. These people are getting arrested because they are spreading ideas via the internet. While it isn’t the most striking or awesome advance ever, it’s a step in the right direction. If we would have farmed out some sweat shop labor to Cuba, eventually put some TV’s in living rooms, maybe Castro would be gone or reformed by now. Just guessin’.

  6. Am I to infer that some people are saying censored communication via a particular medium is worse than no communication via that medium at all? If so, why?

  7. If we would have farmed out some sweat shop labor to Cuba

    So we tried two radically different approaches to Cuba and China and got virtually the same result. With the exception that the Chinese communists are richer and more entrenched than ever. I can picture Cuba getting its act together after Castro finally dies, but I don’t see anything similar happening in China. With *our* money, they’ve enriched themselves and dribbled just enough to the masses to shut them up–and did so without ceding one inch of power or granting one stinking bit of freedom.

    Am I to infer that some people are saying censored communication via a particular medium is worse than no communication via that medium at all?

    It’s not like the Chinese don’t have their own websites. Yahoo and Google aren’t providing anything that didn’t already exist.

  8. Nuts. 2nd & 4th ‘graphs are mine. Sorry

  9. “So we tried two radically different approaches to Cuba and China and got virtually the same result. With the exception that the Chinese communists are richer and more entrenched than ever.”

    The Chinese are also much less communist than before, recently passing private property laws (albeit bizarre ones). Cuba? still stoked about communism.

  10. Rhywun,

    The level of prosperity for a large portion of the Chinese population has increased dramatically.

    China is taking on in its political, social, economic, etc. development the same issues that Britain did during its period of development. Peterloo anyone?

    China is no pariah. That doesn’t mean we have to be happy about every development in China, it does mean that its developmental arc isn’t all that different in many ways from what happened in Western Europe or the U.S.

  11. Who cares what the Chinese do as long as they keep providing cheap, good-quality stuff?

  12. The level of prosperity for a large portion of the Chinese population has increased dramatically.

    I wouldn’t say “large” portion. Don’t be fooled by averages.

    That doesn’t mean we have to be happy about every development in China

    It’s not enough that we throw some manufacturing over there – we threw virtually ALL of it there. It’s not enough that we offer services like Google – we are doing the government’s dirty work for them. From the average Chinese person’s perspective this all must look like we’re very happy indeed with the status quo.

  13. From the average Chinese person’s perspective this all must look like we’re very happy indeed with the status quo.

    From the average Chinese person’s perspective, they are happier indeed with the status quo than with the status ante.

    Economic freedoms and the improvements they bring in well being are real things. By any measure China is freer now than it was a few years ago, and it appears to only be getting freer.

    It’s not enough that we offer services like Google

    “We” offer services like Google? I hate to tell you… Google offers services like Google. Or do you prefer China’s older notion of government ownership and control over the means of production?

    we are doing the government’s dirty work for them.

    I trust that you hold similar contempt for companies that help the US enforce its immigration laws. Kidnapping workers and their families, transporting them far from their homes, and forbidding their travel back to their homes and their jobs is unconscionable.

    And pretty much every corporate HR and legal department in the country does the government’s bidding in the matter without flinching.

  14. “Who cares what the Chinese do as long as they keep providing cheap, good-quality stuff?”

    Perhaps you are confused about the definition of the word “quality”?

  15. From the average Chinese person’s perspective, they are happier indeed with the status quo than with the status ante.

    To anyone who dares practice free speech, or their religion, or freedom of movement, just tell them they should suck it up and be happy with the bits of prosperity the government allows them to have.

    I trust that you hold similar contempt for companies that help the US enforce its immigration laws.

    Honestly, my mind isn’t totally made up on the ethics of immigration laws. (It seems to me, however, that more companies are flaunting such laws than aiding the government in enforcing them.) However, I am quite certain that freedom of speech is a fundamental right that American corporations should not be trampling abroad.

    Or do you prefer China’s older notion of government ownership and control over the means of production?

    Oh, don’t put words in my mouth I never said. You’re stretching awfully hard to try to paint me as… a Communist? Which is pretty ironic given the argument I’m making against the Chinese regime.

  16. Rhywun:

    I’m not defending China either. I’m just saying that it appears that social change is more likely to happen in a positive direction when the oppressed country is engaged with the rest of the world.

  17. To anyone who dares practice free speech, or their religion, or freedom of movement, just tell them they should suck it up and be happy with the bits of prosperity the government allows them to have.

    I am not aware of the fact that China was a bastion of free speech, religion, and movement before the arrival of Yahoo. I may have to amend my opinion if you can show that China was recently a libertarian paradise.

    In fact, if you can demonstrate that there are any freedoms that fewer Chinese have now than, say, in 1997, I’ll reconsider my unqualified statement on the improvements in China.

    Honestly, my mind isn’t totally made up on the ethics of immigration laws.

    You cite China for restricting freedom of movement. Ask yourself what immigration law fundamentally is.

    Oh, don’t put words in my mouth I never said. You’re stretching awfully hard to try to paint me as… a Communist? Which is pretty ironic given the argument I’m making against the Chinese regime.

    My apologies. I was intentionally playing the very irony you point out here.

  18. In fact, if you can demonstrate that there are any freedoms that fewer Chinese have now than, say, in 1997, I’ll reconsider my unqualified statement on the improvements in China.

    Like I said, the Chinese people are allowed just enough material prosperity to shut them up about the total lack of political freedom. That isn’t working out so well if the thousands of recent protests, often violent, are any indication. Yet the government shows no signs of relaxing their control, and in fact is cracking down on various technologies or other possible opportunities for the people to increase their freedom as they appear (e.g. cybercafes). In my opinion, there’s no progress. Maybe I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy.

    You cite China for restricting freedom of movement. Ask yourself what immigration law fundamentally is.

    I cite China for restricting freedom of movement within China. I believe that the denial of the concept of sovereignty which seems to be common around here is rather extreme and outside reality, and thus immigration is not comparable to internal migration.

  19. I believe that the denial of the concept of sovereignty which seems to be common around here is rather extreme and outside reality, and thus immigration is not comparable to internal migration.

    Not to get too off topic, but I don’t deny the concept of sovereignty or the powers of government to control its borders, to know who crosses them, and to exclude immigrants who are an authentic risk to the population.

    What I do deny is any legitimate power of government to keep people out for reasons not representing an actual threat to the people of its dominion, e.g., simply because they want to live or work in the country.

    As an analogy, I recognize the legitimate power of government to run police, prosecution, and court systems, but I don’t recognize any legitimate power to arrest without cause, hold without review, or try without observation of the traditional common law rights.

  20. “I don’t deny the concept of sovereignty or the powers of government to control its borders, to know who crosses them, and to exclude immigrants who are an authentic risk to the population.”

    Maybe you would deny it if countries were mostly very tiny. If every few blocks were sovereign, those controls would really rankle, wouldn’t they? But we’d have a lot more chances to catch crooks and confine the contagious.

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