Cisco Helps China Censor

Cisco Helping China Monitor its Citizens isn’t so much new as a stark reminder of the nature of corporations.  Corporations are by definition sociopathic, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about the amount of power they command in today’s society.  Boycott Cisco if you like, not that it would do anything.

Why Aren’t We Honest With China?

China has no respect for the rights of its citizens.  Why do we have a shred of diplomatic respect for this country?  I don’t advocate isolating China by any means, but in our dealings with them we have a moral responsibility to make clear we view their human rights abuses with earned contempt.

China Imprisons 30 Protesters

In an effort to win more goodwill for the 2008 Summer Olympics, China has imprisoned 30 protesters:

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced 30 people, including six monks, to jail terms ranging from three years to life in prison for their alleged roles in deadly riots in the Tibetan capital last month, state media reported.

International Pressure, while intense-ish, hasn’t worried Chinese officials on account of the massive economic interests involved.  Still, they have kinda mentioned non specific talks:

After weeks of international pressure by the U.S. and the European Union, China announced last week it would be willing to begin talks with representatives to the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet whom Beijing has blamed for fomenting the unrest. No specifics were given on when or where a possible meeting would occur.

Word is the talks are going to be held at a time and place.

Meanwhile, re-education and propaganda efforts have redoubled:

Chinese authorities have increased patriotic education classes that require monks to make ritual denunciations of the Dalai Lama, accept the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama and pledge allegiance to Beijing.

China:  Redefining Human Rights.  Call Today!

Personifying the Torch, Diminishing the Protests

Jim Yardley of the New York Times has indulged in some markedly poor reporting on the upcoming running of the torch through San Francisco (emphasis mine):

The Olympic torch arrived at the airport here from Paris in the wee hours Tuesday morning, exited out a side door and was escorted by motorcade to a downtown hotel. There it took a well-deserved break in a room complete with cable TV, room service and views of the city’s popular Union Square shopping district.

So it starts.  The article puffs up the flame as a person:

The most exposed runner of all, of course, will be the naked flame at the end of the torch. Organizers would not divulge the flame’s exact location on Tuesday, but said it was being well taken care of at its hotel.

And how did the flame look, after all of its travails?

“Let’s just say,” said Mr. McCarron, the airport spokesman, who got to work at 3 a.m. to meet the flame and its jet-lagged Chinese Olympic delegates, “it looked better than we did.”

Which is really rather interesting in the context of attempts to put the flame out, isn’t it?

The tone of the article is fear.  Will the runners be attacked?

Ms. Couglin said she was not worried because the U.S. Olympic Committee had assigned a retired F.B.I. agent to run with her.

Will the city be able to handle the crazies?

Downtown buildings also stepped up security, and restaurants along the route pulled in — rather than pulled out — patio seating. Sources of anxiety were everywhere: protests atop tourist attractions, famous and not-so-famous Tibet supporters and, of course, the city’s lunatic fringe.

The message hidden in this is pretty clear.  That the people protesting China’s routine violation of even the most basic human rights are dangerous, not quite right in the head, and missing the point:

“It’s terrible,” said Lily Chang, 58, an American citizen who immigrated from Shanghai six years ago and now works at a gift shop in Chinatown. “This is not political. It’s sports.”

The Olympics is innately political, and has a rich history of athletes and their countrymen who stood up to the tyrants of the day.  Today the attention of the games is on China, who is making a play for more legitimacy and normalcy in their international standing.  However these efforts fail in the face of their human rights record, and all forecasts point to continued protests up through the games.  These are well deserved.  China ought to be condemned for its failures in the realm of human rights and ethical conduct.

China Behind Tibet Violence?

If this is true, it is a bombshell(emphasis mine):

London, March 20 – Britain’s GCHQ, the government communications agency that electronically monitors half the world from space, has confirmed the claim by the Dalai Lama that agents of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the PLA, posing as monks, triggered the riots that have left hundreds of Tibetans dead or injured.

GCHQ analysts believe the decision was deliberately calculated by the Beijing leadership to provide an excuse to stamp out the simmering unrest in the region, which is already attracting unwelcome world attention in the run-up to the Olympic Games this summer.

Violence mars the message of the most worthwhile protests.  There have been accounts of undercover police officers inciting violence in protests here in the states, so this wouldn’t be without precedent.

There’s still time to sign the petition for dialogue.

Petition for Dialogue: Support Tibet

We need to start somewhere.  Honest, open dialogue is a great start.  Here’s the petition.

China is Crushing Tibet, and The World is Standing By

I’ve watched the protests unfolding in Tibet over the past few days with increasing despondency. China is killing Tibetans. They are doing their best to censor news of the protests, even going so far as to censor youtube videos.

As the Chinese government brutally tramples the Tibetan people, pollutes their land and exploits their resources, the rest of the world simply sits and watches, waiting for the Olympics.

Tibet is its own country. You cannot charge in with soldiers, murder thousands upon thousands, and institute a totalitarian regime then claim it was yours all along. China has no credibility on this. It could regain some credibility by restoring Tibet’s independence, renouncing its claims to Taiwan, and working to mend wounds and forge close socio-economic ties with both countries. Of course they will not. Any country with such a severe disrespect for the rights of its own people cannot be expected to act responsibly in the world. Peace and Liberty start at home.

Free China, Free Tibet.

Tibetan Bravery, Chinese Cruelty and World Cowardice

In the face of severe human rights violations and oppression by China, Tibetan activists are on the march:

Tibetan exiles vowed to defy an Indian government order that they stop their march from the northern Indian city of Dharmsala to Tibet’s border in a protest against China’s rule over their homeland.

About 100 people — mostly students and monks — plan to reach India’s border with Tibet for a confrontation with Chinese authorities just before the Beijing Olympics begin in August, according to Himachal Pradesh, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress and one of the march organizers.

“As long as the issue of Tibet is not resolved, we will resist China occupation,” Pradesh said.

Several hundred monks clashed with Chinese police near the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on Tuesday, according to Radio Free Asia. It was the second day of protests by monks on the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising that forced the Dalai Lama into exile.

Even as Tibetans continue to resist oppression with non-violence, the Chinese government has stepped up its program of tyranny:

Human rights activists decried the U.S. State Department decision to drop China from its list of the world’s worst human rights violators, saying that China’s crackdown on dissent is getting worse, not better, as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in August.

“We and others have documented a sharp uptick in human rights violations directly related to preparations for the Olympics,” said Phelim Kine, Asia researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, who said the State Department’s decision comes at the worst possible time for activists seeking to pressure Beijing to relax restrictions on free speech, release political prisoners and improve human rights protections.

Removing China from this list is not diplomacy.  It is a knife in the eye.  The Tibetan protest is a call the world must rise to meet.  Doing so would send a clear message to those who resist oppression with violence and outright terrorism.

Just in the past week, Chinese police clashed with Tibetan monks demonstrating for independence in Lhasa, capital of the remote mountainous region. Human rights activist Hu Jia, jailed after organizing a petition saying that Chinese wanted “human rights, not the Olympics,” was informed that his trial on charges of subverting state power could begin as early as this month. A prominent human rights lawyer, Teng Biao, was abducted by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau and then released two days later. And a Web site that organizes expeditions to Mt. Everest posted a notice that China was barring climbers from the mountain’s north face until after May 10, when a runner carrying the Olympic torch is scheduled to reach the summit en route to Beijing. Last April, Chinese expelled five Americans after they unfurled “Free Tibet” banners at the Everest base camp.

“Human Rights, not the Olympics”.  We need to get our priorities straight.

China Continues to Oppress Tibet

China continues to brutally oppress Tibet, and the world seems to pay only a passing attention.

Two very important monks supposedly committed suicide(Precious Metal).  Did the Chinese government murder them?

From AsiaNews – Two of the oldest and most respected Tibetan Buddhist monks have died under mysterious circumstances – officially, “they committed suicide” – over the course of the last two months in Shigatse, the second-largest Tibetan city. Both were staunch supporters of the Dalai Lama, whose successor they were supposed to recognise. This is confirmed by various Tibetan and Indian sources, who are remaining anonymous for their own safety, and explain “The news is only now coming to light because the government had tried to obfuscate it”.

China has one of the worst records on human rights in the world.  They have invaded a sovereign nation, and undertaken efforts to utterly destroy the people, the land and the culture that once lived there.  When will we, as a nation, stand up to them?

Oppression is a Business Cost for Yahoo

yahoochinaoppression.jpg

Yahoo has settled with the families of the Chinese dissidents they helped the Communist government arrest. Via Wired:

Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed. But a source at Yahoo said the company has been “working with the families, and we’re working with them to provide them with financial, humanitarian and legal assistance.”

Yahoo has also agreed to establish a global human rights fund to provide “humanitarian relief” to support dissidents and their families. The source said that details still have to be worked out.

Despite the new human rights friendly rhetoric:

“After meeting with the families, it was clear to me what we had to do to make this right for them, for Yahoo! and for the future,” said Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang in a statement. “Yahoo! was founded on the idea that the free exchange of information can fundamentally change how people lead their lives, conduct their business and interact with their governments.”

“We are committed to making sure our actions match our values around the world. That’s why we are also working to establish a Human Rights Fund to provide humanitarian and legal aid to dissidents who have been imprisoned for expressing their views online,” he said.

This is unlikely to bring about meaningful change in how the company operates in China:

Yahoo said nothing, however, about the future provision of e-mail services to users in China. Its competitor Google has decided not to host e-mail or blogging services for users within the jurisdiction of mainland Chinese authorities.

In fact even the help they are offering comes in response to increasing public pressure:

The settlement comes after lawmakers blasted Yang and Yahoo’s top lawyer Michael Callahan last week in a congressional hearing over how Yahoo has handled the entire chain of events surrounding the arrests.

“It took a tongue-lashing from Congress before these high-tech titans did the right thing and coughed up some concrete assistance for the family of a journalist whom Yahoo had helped to send to jail,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos in a statement issued Tuesday. “In my view, today’s settlement is long overdue.”

The “after meeting with the families” line is about as transparent as bullshit gets.

So what does this new position of Yahoo’s really say about the state of human rights in China, and the corporation’s role?

A commentator at slashdot summed it up quite nicely (emphasis mine):

MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday November 13, @05:08PM (#21342423)
(Last Journal: Tuesday March 13 2007, @02:39PM)

 

I doubt it. I’m sure, if you’re a Chinese journalist or dissident using Yahoo China for communications and the authorities figure you’re saying critical things about them or reporting the truth of their regime, Yahoo will happily sell you out, but now with the added dimension that they’ll buy off your relatives.

 

Human Rights violations have become another line item in the budget. To be fair, its probably a few line items. PR firm, legal defense fund, lawsuit settlement. There. All done, nice and tidy. Now Yahoo can continue business as usual.

(Out of curiosity, I wonder if Yahoo for Good is banned in China, or if it comes with a disclaimer for Chinese citizens: “Warning, this may get you arrested and possibly tortured”?)

Back to the Wired Article:

In a statement issued Tuesday, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said that the settlement doesn’t obviate the need for his proposed bill, which would among other things make it illegal for US tech companies to divulge identifying user information to repressive regimes, and allow affected parties to bring civil suits against such companies in the United States.

“As a nation, we have a responsibility to continue to push for the release of these human rights leaders and pass the Global Online Freedom Act to prevent this egregious human rights abuse from happening to others,” said Smith in a statement. “Much like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, my legislation will make certain that US companies are not compelled to comply with local Secret Police or any other unlawful policies when operating in foreign markets.”

Call in to your Representative and Senator. Ask them to support Smith’s bill, and to oppose Yahoo’s crass lobbying:

Yahoo is working “pro-actively” with lawmakers on the bill, said the Yahoo source. They added that Yahoo supports the “overall objectives” of the bill, but that there are still provisions in it that would effectively ban the company from doing business in China.

 

The bill would send a clear message to internet companies: You can’t get away with this. Right now, Yahoo thinks they can.

We can prove them wrong.

Can You Read This in China?

The answer might, strangely, be yes.

“The Chinese government sells its people totalitarianism and suffering under the moldy guise of communist solidarity”

How about now?

Censorship in oppressive countries is nothing new, although it is on the rise.  What we need to look at is how the major net companies, Microsoft and Yahoo, and of course Google, capitulate to these regimes and aid them in their censorship.  There is only one argument thrown up in their defense.  The idea that they are just following local laws.

Needless to say this doesn’t hold water.  Imagine you sell fruit, and the price of selling fruit in a certain country is that you out members of a “suspect religion” like Falun Gong or Catholicism, sending them to be tortured and killed.  What would be the ethical thing to do?

Stop selling fruit in that country.

China and a host of countries represent huge markets, and huge temptations for large corporations like Google or Microsoft.  There are two sides to this ethical coin.  On the one hand, this is clearly unethical.  They are putting profits and market shares above the value of human rights.  On the other, just by being there, they allow some help to get through in the form of as yet uncensored websites and proxies.  How?  Well by finding proxies and workarounds through google of course!

But how long until even that route is closed?  Until technology and application “progresses” to the point where an oppressive government can block, completely, any attempts to find workarounds or proxies?  Can they do that now?

If so, then there is no ethical upside to the involvement of large web companies in the oppressive machine.  Just the unethical act of sacrificing liberty for corporate gain.

And don’t think it will stop there either.  Tools used to censor in Thailand will circle back here one day or another.  It would be best to stop this before it gets to that point.

Beijing to Surfers: BOOOO!

Beijing is planning on using animations to scare web users into compliance with Communist party rules (Yahoo via Slashdot):

The animated police appeared designed to startle Web surfers and remind them that authorities closely monitor Web activity. However, the statement did not say whether there were plans to boost monitoring further.

Big Brother is watching. And Uncle Sam is looking the other way. Unless we’re talking about trade issues. Then you’ve got our attention.

A bit more on the imagery being used.  Did you ever have a teacher who eschewed the red pen in favor of the pencil?  Your paper still was covered in notes and markings.  But didn’t that D look better in a dull gray, rather than in an imperious red?

The Chinese government is exercising an authority that is neither legitimate nor comforting.  In fact it is downright frightening.  You could go to jail and be tortured.  Be blacklisted and tracked.  All for reading and expressing your opinion.  A stern police officer, representative of the thugs who would be sent to bash your skull and drag you in for questioning, would be a constant reminder of the nature of the beast.  Softening the blow, however little, invites victims (in this case Chinese citizens) to play along with the myth that such poisonous domestic monitoring is natural.  Good, even.

By making the cartoon officers so stereotypically “good”, you are sending the message that “Hey, I know you’re following our really nice laws, but please be careful not to make a mistake, ok?”.

Either way, it is a symbol of oppression, and one that will be shoved down citizen’s throats on a daily basis.

There are ways to fight back.  Check out CitizenLab.

China’s Manufacturing Problem

China has a serious image problem in the recent recalls.  They are quite aware of this (Wall Street Journal):

While in China, senior Mattel executives also met with Chinese government officials to discuss the recall, according to a person in the industry who has been in contact with Mattel employees. Mattel employees said Chinese officials were upset that the American company’s toy recall had disgraced the name of China, according to the person.

Of course the recall was the most responsible way to handle the issue (bravo Mattel), so China’s complaints aren’t exactly sensible here (what else should they have done?).

The reason there had to be a recall in the first place suggests many more to follow failing productive action by Chinese authorities:

In the past, Mattel has had difficulty getting factory owners to fall in line, according to reports from the New York-based International Center for Corporate Accountability. An audit conducted by the center of Mattel factories in 2005, for example, reported that manufacturers had balked in responding to Mattel’s orders to reduce overtime and reimburse workers for job-related medical expenses.

One of the added costs of outsourcing, then, is this lack of control.  That can be a very significant cost indeed, as Mattel is finding out.

He said buyers may be able to thoroughly enforce outside standards in China only by having their own people working and living at facilities — not by simply conducting the periodic audits that many smaller toy makers have come to rely on.

One alternative would be for the Chinese government to begin adopting stronger labor laws.  If they bring their standards up to the rest of the worlds, the image problem, the recalls, and the logistical difficulties of keeping everything in line would go away.  Of course, this would drive up costs, but should a country founded on an idealogical support for “the workers” have better protections in place regarding working conditions?

China’s good name has indeed been disgraced, and it is up to China to take the necessary steps to clear it.

In the meantime, domestic companies should take a long hard look at the risk of doing business with Chinese manufacturers.  This recall could hit Mattel hard, but imagine a recall in October or November.  That would devastate holiday sales.

This should bring home to executives that sound labor policy translates directly to sound fiscal policy in the long run.

China and RFID: For Your Protection

So China’s setting up a pilot people tracking program.  Who else thinks this is awesome?  You just know President to be Giuliani is drooling over the possibilities state-side.  Maybe we can up the ante and inject our citizens instead of using “cards”.  Although if you think about it, cards offer more opportunity for the totalitarian of tomorrow.  Don’t have you card with you citizen?  Oh yes, you’re ass is in jail and tortured.  Before you can say “Remember Tiananmen Square”.

The company providing this technology to The People’s Republic of China is a charmer:

“If they do not get the permanent card, they cannot live here, they cannot get government benefits, and that is a way for the government to control the population in the future,” said Michael Lin, the vice president for investor relations at China Public Security Technology, the company providing the technology. Incorporated in Florida, China Public Security has raised much of the money to develop its technology from two investment funds in Plano, Tex., Pinnacle Fund and Pinnacle China Fund. Three investment banks–Roth Capital Partners in Newport Beach, Calif.; Oppenheimer & Company in New York; and First Asia Finance Group of Hong Kong–helped raise the money.

Let’s start where the money issues forth.  Roth Capital Partner‘s slogan is “Doing things differently… that’s the way we are as an investment banking firm”.  Really?  Is supporting the actual act of oppression by a regime like China’s all that different from any other banking group?  What sets you aside from Oppenheimer & Company, another pro-fascist investment corp?  Their tagline?  “For over a century, we have been committed to helping clients invest and preserve money wisely”.  Well, someone’s betting on China’s abusive take on law and order sticking around for a while (and generating some serious cash).  I’d certainly feel comfortable with such wise counsel managing my financial assets.  But just in case, I’d hedge my investment with First Asia Finance Group and Pinnacle, two more corporations willing to get their hands dirty in the mire of Chinese human rights to make a buck.

It is in no way ethical for any of these companies to directly assist the Chinese government in controlling its population.  Let me say that again.  The Chinese government is using this technology, directly, to control their population and the companies helping them do this (and much of the investment capital) is coming from the US.  Every American should be up in arms about this, from the anti-communist conservatives to the pro human rights liberals.  Everyone.  And not just because our own capital and technology is being used to finance China’s further aggression against the freedom of its own people.

Because this kind of fascist bull will inevitably filter back to us:

But rising fears of terrorism have lessened public hostility to surveillance cameras in the West. This has been particularly true in Britain, where the police already install the cameras widely on lamp poles and in subway stations and are developing face recognition software as well.

New York police announced last month that they would install more than 100 security cameras to monitor license plates in Lower Manhattan by the end of the year. Police officials also said they hoped to obtain financing to establish links to 3,000 public and private cameras in the area by the end of next year; no decision has been made on whether face recognition technology has become reliable enough to use without the risk of false arrests.

Preying on a carefully cultivated sense of fear, and using the Chinese efforts as a massive pilot study on effectiveness, get ready for local authorities to try and pull this.  The recent assaults on our civil liberties, the massive use of the politics of fear, and a host of attempts at tracking and watching citizens should make this devastatingly clear.

One of the foundational political truths of this world is “what happens there, happens here”.  Well right now what’s happening “there” is the Bush administration’s wet-dream:  a comprehensive tracking plan targeting every citizen within a test city.  Its unethical there, and its unethical here.  We may not have access to the Chinese government, but we do have access to our own, and to the companies that operate here, and do the worst sort of political damage there.

Google, Yahoo and Censorship

Yahoo’s shareholders have joined Google’s in rejecting an anti-censorship proposal.  The ethical implications of this are immediately clear.  What may be less clear is the message this is sending to corporate America, specifically to the internet and communications giants.  From Slashdot:

Matthew Skala writes “The BBC reports that Yahoo! has rejected a shareholder proposal to adopt an anti-censorship policy, as well as one to set up a human rights committee to review the impact of Yahoo!’s operations in places like China. The interesting proposals are numbers 6 and 7 in the proxy statement available through EDGAR. This news comes on the heels of jailed Chinese reporter Shi Tao, suing Yahoo! for its involvement in his conviction, and Google’s rejection of a similar proposal. The anti-censorship proposal was submitted by the same groups (several New York City pension funds) as the Google proposal. The proxy statement also includes the Board’s recommendations — “strongly oppose[ing]” both proposals — with explanations of their reasoning.”

From the BBC article, you have two explanations for why these firms insist on sticking with censorship:

But Yahoo insists it must comply with local laws in areas where it operates.

The internet firms argue it is better to offer Chinese users some information than none at all.

The first explanation is the most telling.  It is less a reason, more an excuse.  If Yahoo had been around during nazi Germany’s reign, would they have complied with their “local laws”?  What happens when one of the dissidents Yahoo turns over is tortured and killed by the Chinese government?  At some point one must draw a distinction between the nearly holy perceived authority of written law and the actual justice of said law.  Civil disobedience isn’t a radical act limited to protesters.  It is a fundamental responsibility of all citizens to oppose unjust laws.

The second explanation is somewhat in line with US trade policy towards China in general.  The idea is that human rights and freedom will go along with our increased economic activity.  The problem with this is censorship severely limiting the positive effects of trade.  If Google or Yahoo were to pull their services, the Chinese would notice.  If the biggest search engines in the world no longer worked, how would that make the government look?

How genuine  is this argument anyway?  Is letting a Chinese user use google to find a state approved news article on why Taiwan might need to be invaded worth getting a dissident thrown in jail and possibly tortured for expressing his political opinion?

Also the policy of not revealing censored sites says a lot about the companies:

Neither Yahoo nor any other company has released a list of websites that have been de-listed for their political and religious content.

If they did, that would provide powerful evidence against the motives and effects of the Chinese government’s actions.  It would also serve to let the censored sites in on their own prohibition.

By continuing to support censorship, Yahoo and Google are doing more than supporting a repressive regime.  They are sending the message to other corporations that this is how companies should act with regard to human rights.

The arguments put forth by the companies ring hollow, and what we are left with is corporations that do not want to see lose a major market, and are willing to compromise the spirit of the laws of the countries for profit.  It puts that desire for profit above the human rights of the communities served.