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Walker's World: Ganging up on China

US will not back away from Internet freedom push
Washington (AFP) Jan 25, 2010 - The United States said Monday it will not back away from an Internet freedom push that has raised hackles in China amid a dispute between Beijing and Web giant Google over cyberattacks. "We are aware that China has a different position with respect to restricting information," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. "We think this is inconsistent with the information environment and prerequisites of the 21st century," Crowley told reporters. "So we will continue to promote the free flow of information, unfettered access to information, the ability to have virtual freedom of association. "These are all, we believe, fundamental tenets of the environment that we live in, and we will not back away from advocating that this should be something that all countries should promote," Crowley said. The spokesman also recalled that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major policy speech on Internet freedom last week in which she talked about "being able to surf the Internet without restrictions."

Beijing lashed out at Clinton's speech last week, saying it was "harmful" to relations, and a Chinese spokesman on Monday denied any state involvement in the cyberattacks which Google said originated in China. The Internet giant has said that following the cyberattacks on the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists it is no longer willing to censor Web search results in China even it that means it has to leave the country. A spokesman for China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said Monday that the "accusation that the Chinese government participated in (any) cyberattack, either in an explicit or inexplicit way, is groundless and aims to denigrate China." "China's policy on Internet safety is transparent and consistent," the spokesman told state news agency Xinhua, saying the country with the world's largest online community was itself the "biggest victim" of hacking. The White House said last week that President Barack Obama was "troubled" by the Chinese-based cyberattacks on Google and other US companies and was seeking official answers. The Google row, which erupted almost two weeks ago, has threatened to damage Sino-US ties, which are already dogged by trade and currency issues, US arms sales to Taiwan and climate change.
by Martin Walker
Washington (UPI) Jan 25, 2009
The row over Internet censorship between Google and China got all the headlines, but the really alarming development for Beijing in the last week came from India.

The unprecedented decision by the Indian government to deliver a formal diplomatic demarche against Chinese trade policies was just one of a range of developments in recent days that must be troubling the Chinese leadership. It seems as if a critical mass of criticism is coming together among some of China's leading trade partners.

To Beijing's prickly and defensive leaders, who have proved quick to take offense, it may seem that a wave of China-bashing is under way. There was more than a hint of that in quasi-official Chinese media charges that the Google affair was somehow being whipped up by the U.S. government.

But the fact is that each of the countries that have publicly bridled at the Chinese way of doing business was acting independently, even though they have many similar concerns, particularly over cyberattacks and espionage from China.

Two weeks ago the chairman of Indian's Cyber Law and IT Act Committee told reporters: "China is very active in cyberspace. It has raised a cyber army of about 300,000 people and their only job is to intrude upon secured networks of other countries. All this is all aimed at supremacy. Every country must set up cyber armies to counter China."

But India's latest diplomatic demarche is something new. The note was delivered by the Indian Commerce Ministry at the end of last week's meeting of the Sino-Indian Joint Economic Group of in Beijing. It was inspired by India's soaring trade deficit with China, which has risen from $1 billion eight years ago to $22 billion last year. India blames Chinese foot-dragging on promises to open its markets to food and other Indian exports.

Then there was the announcement by the Indonesian government that it wants to renegotiate the new free-trade pact between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This followed mass demonstrations in Java by workers concerned for their jobs.

"If there aren't any protective steps taken for these industries we're afraid that there will be layoffs and even the closure of those industries," Industry Minister M.S. Hidayat told Parliament. He cited Indonesia's steel, textile, non-organic chemical, furniture and energy-saving lamp industries as the ones facing the "most serious impact" and called for the pact to be renegotiated to shield such sectors from Chinese competition.

Industries in Thailand and Malaysia have also called for a halt in the free-trade deal between ASEAN and China. It was hailed when it came into effect Jan. 1 as the world's third-largest trade deal, bringing together markets with a combined population of 1.9 billion people with a gross domestic product of $6.6 trillion and a trade volume of $4.3 trillion.

Tan Sri William Cheng, president of the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia and one of the most prominent business leaders in the country, called for a delay in the full liberalization of trade with China, saying his country's industries are not ready to face the impact of full competition. But other Malaysian objectors have said, echoing the Indian concerns, that they fear China will not play the game by the same rules.

China's response to criticism is to counterattack. Take, for example, the warning last week by Japan's foreign minister that Tokyo would be forced "to take action" if China does not uphold the agreement for joint exploitation of oil and gas fields in disputed island waters that are claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing. The Chinese response was this was caused by "domestic political uncertainty in Japan. … The current Japanese government, led by Yukio Hatoyama, wants to divert the public attention to the diplomatic dispute with China from a funding scandal."

This hardening of opinion toward China is not restricted to its Asian neighbors. Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, an influential London-based think-tank, has just published a report titled "China's 'peaceful rise' turns prickly."

"European leaders are increasingly critical of China, at least in private," Grant notes, suggesting Europe's re-think followed the crackdowns in Tibet and China's unhelpful negotiating position at the Copenhagen summit on climate change. "China's leaders should not assume that European markets will remain open to them indefinitely."

China's exports to the West, still far below their boom levels of 2007, are vulnerable to any more scandals over health and safety. And one came last week, when companies selling Chinese-made baby strollers recalled 1.5 million of them sold in the United States and Canada over the past four years, warning that badly designed and sharp hinges could slice off infants' fingers.

Few people want a trade war, which would damage the whole global economy. But growing concern in the U.S. Congress and European Parliament over China's "currency manipulation" suggests the issue is coming to a head this year. But what Beijing may not have expected was that the charge would be led by India, with other Asian neighbors close behind.

If so, then Beijing was not paying attention. Only last year India's Defense Ministry warned the country's telecoms industries "not to award equipment contracts to Huawei and Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Company Limited in the interest of national security."

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