McKenzie Wark on Tue, 28 Jan 97 13:02 MET

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News from the rest of the world...
"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
 -- McKenzie Wark 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 28 Jan 1997 22:40:38 +1100 (EST)
From: McKenzie Wark <>
Subject: high-tech and China (fwd)

"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
 -- McKenzie Wark 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 27 Jan 1997 19:23:18 -0600 (CST)
From: Gary Chapman <>
Subject: L.A. Times Column, 1/27/97

The following is my Los Angeles Times column which ran today, January 27, 1997.

Please feel free to pass this around, but please retain the copyright notice.


-- Gary

Gary Chapman
The 21st Century Project
LBJ School of Public Affairs
Drawer Y
University Station
University of Texas
Austin, TX  78713
(512) 471-8326
(512) 471-1835 (fax)

China Represents Ethical Quagmire in High-Tech Age

January 27, 1997

By Gary Chapman

Copyright, The Los Angeles Times, 1997

In his inauguration speech last week, President Clinton said: "Our hopes,
our hearts, our hands are with those on every continent who are building
democracy and freedom. Their cause is America's cause."

The biggest challenge in making this statement more than mere rhetoric will
be China. And this will be the year of China, as all eyes focus on the
Chinese government's July 1 takeover of Hong Kong, one of the world's most
free and vibrant cities.

China looms large in every dimension, as the world's most populous country,
one of the world's oldest civilizations, the fastest-growing economy and
the biggest threat to human rights and democracy.

For the high-tech industry, China represents a unique challenge. The market
for high-tech goods and services in China is doubling every year, and this
year computer manufacturers expect to sell 3 million computers there. The
prospect of capturing the Chinese market makes every Western businessman
and businesswoman salivate, especially because of the near-saturation of
many high-tech markets in industrialized countries.

And the enthusiasm of the Chinese for information technologies is reaching
feverish levels: Bill Gates' book, "The Road Ahead," is now the No. 1
bestseller in China, just as it was in the United States last year.

But the Chinese government is dedicated to controlling citizens' access to
"foreign" ideas, including information about democracy, freedom, the
independence of Taiwan, the occupation of Tibet and other subversive
concepts that Chinese authorities have dubbed "cultural rubbish."

As more and more American companies begin to participate in the Chinese
market, grave questions arise about what activities are appropriate, given
the abysmal Chinese record on human rights and the successful government
campaign to quash dissent following the demonstrations and massacre in
Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

As one significant example, a large Santa Clara, Calif.-based computer
networking firm, Bay Networks Inc. (), is about to launch a
multimillion-dollar joint venture with the Chinese government to build a
countrywide intranet called China Wide Web. Five cities will initiate this
network next month -- Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenyang and Guangzhou
-- with 50 more cities planned.

What does it mean to have a countrywide intranet in a nation as large as
China? According to one Bay Networks spokesman, Tim Helms, it will entail
"security and filters" managed by network "firewalls," or devices and
software used to control access to the Internet.

The Chinese government already censors the Internet and closely monitors
Internet access. All Internet users -- estimated at 40,000 to 70,000
people, with 7,000 to 10,000 in Beijing -- are required to register with
government offices. Many Web sites are banned, not only those containing
pornography, but also those featuring material on Chinese human rights,
Taiwan independence and protests over Chinese activity in Tibet.

Chinese Communist Party officials understand that access to the Internet is
essential to a modern economy.

"With its China-wide coverage and bilingual nature, the China Wide Web will
accelerate the pace at which Chinese enterprises can advance to the new
frontier of international electronic commerce," said Juber Chu, Bay
Networks' manager for the greater China area.

Chinese citizens who can access the Internet are an exclusive class of
government-approved entrepreneurs, academics, researchers and government
functionaries. They have to play by the rules: All Internet service
providers must sign a pledge not to "harm the nation" or to offer access to
banned sites. Without government sanction, the plug gets yanked. One
state-approved chat group in Beijing is even dedicated to how best to
invade Taiwan.

Free-speech and human rights activists in the West would like to believe
that the development of the Internet in China is a good thing that will
inevitably help spur the free expression of ideas. Yet that notion is based
on the myth that there is a dissident class in China that's urgently
wishing to communicate with the outside world, said Robin Munro, director
of Human Rights Watch/Asia, based in Hong Kong.

"In fact," said Munro, "there really isn't much of a dissident community
left in China." Since 1989, the Chinese government has jailed nearly every
dissenter, and those who are left are marginalized and outcast, light-years
away from receiving Internet access.

Munro says his organization doesn't recommend that democratic activists use
e-mail anyway.

"It's too easy for the government to monitor, and if they were to use
encryption technologies they would be immediately suspect," he said.

The real human rights issue in China, argues Munro, is whether or not
foreign companies, particularly American computer and software firms, are
selling technology to the Chinese government that will enable it to tighten
its grip on society.

"I think it's time for some kind of corporate code of conduct," Munro said.
"Something positive, that reflects the oft-stated goal of American firms
for a free and democratic information society." He recommends, as a
minimum, that U.S. firms decline to help foreign governments censor the
Internet for political purposes or hide their human rights abuses.

In the 1970s, in the wake of widespread protests over U.S. investment in
South Africa, American corporations adopted a code of conduct called the
Sullivan Principles, which, among other things, banned apartheid policies
in the workplace.

One of the examples that stood out most notoriously as a human rights issue
in South Africa in that era was that the U.S. software product called
Plato, developed by Control Data Corp., was used by the South African
Security Forces to manage the hated passbook system, the basic documentary
enforcement of apartheid.

The economic lure of China is orders of magnitude greater than that of
South Africa 20 years ago, and the human rights abuses are similarly
severe. When people who are influential in China, like Bill Gates and the
managers of other American corporations, think about China, they should
reflect on whether they are part of the problem or part of the solution.

Gary Chapman is director of The 21st Century Project at the University of
Texas at Austin. He can be reached at

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