When representatives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Cisco came before the House subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations yesterday, they were roundly criticized for "caving to the demands of the Chinese government", for "collaborating with [chinese prisoners] persecutors."
Entirely ignored, of course, is the US government’s long history of enabling human rights offenses in China through their own collusion – offering generous trade agreements including membership in the World Trade Organization and "Most Favored Nation status" despite grievous human rights concerns.
The government seems to justify their policies by the belief that an open market relationship with China will help build their economy and lead to a long term development of a more open culture. More specifically, that the capitalist influence will win over the authoritarian communism.
Then why is the behavior of tech firms like Google, Yahoo, and MSN so different? Are other US corporation operating in China not obligated to follow Chinese law? Or is it just that human rights issues are not as important when it comes to child labor and working conditions? The principle of free speech is what is at stake here – and free speech is very important. However, the information available to the Chinese people would not be in any way improved by the absence of these search companies from the market. I agree that Google’s decision to censor their results is a shame, but I also agree that to allow somebody else to censor their results is no better.
I’m not defending Google’s position, or the positions of the many other tech companies who have made concessions to the Chinese government. Neither am I willing to condemn them – they have made concessions which are no more harmful than those made by any other company in the Chinese market, and certainly no more harmful than those made by the United States government.
I condemn the US government – for hypocrisy.
Edit: Official prepared statements from the February 15th hearing. (In PDF (Portable Document Format) format.)