18 November 2011 – Washington, D.C.
Yesterday, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held a hearing on “China’s Censorship of the Internet and Social Media: The Human Toll & Trade Impact.” Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Commission, convened the hearing by thanking victims of China’s repressive policies for speaking out on behalf of those whose voices have been muzzled.
Smith noted that Chinese internet users must, “weigh their choices each time they click a button,” which is true for the father of the first witness, Alex Li (download testimony below). His father, Li Yuanlong, was a reporter who began to write articles about sensitive social issues and government policies. He was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for posting four articles on blocked websites. At the time, Alex was only 17 years old, but the police took him away and interrogated him about his father’s actions without notifying his parents. Alex told how the police used his family computer’s Microsoft licensing information to track their IP address. He posed the question, “how could the public security officers be able to track my father down if it weren’t for advanced technologies provided by companies like Cisco?”
The second witness, Pastor John Zhang (download testimony below), came to the U.S. after being persecuted for his involvement in both the Tiananmen Square democracy movement and in China’s underground Christian house churches. He has helped to bring several dissidents and their families to the U.S., and so he was able to share the heartbreaking impact of censorship related persecution.
Pastor Zhang related the experiences of 14-year-old Chen Qiao, daughter of the prominent dissident writer Liu Xianbin. Liu spent 11 of the last 14 years in prison, which meant he has become like a stranger to his own daughter. He is currently serving his third prison sentence, again for posting articles on overseas websites. Gesturing to Chen Qiao who was seated in the audience, Pastor Zhang lamented that Liu will not be there for his daughter for the next 10 years - her adolescent years, a critical time in any child’s life. (Chen Qiao's testimony can be downloaded below)
Zhang referred to several articles from Cisco’s Chinese website which clearly indicated the high degree of cooperation between the American tech giant and China’s Ministry of Public Security. Posters revealed some of the most incriminating quotations, like a remark from Vice-Chairman of Cisco’s China operations, Zhang Sihua:
“We are very happy to be cooperating with the Public Security Bureau on the construction of Golden Shield’s first-level network…Cisco will continue to provide full support for construction of the Ministry of Public Security’s informational system.”
Yet another article proclaimed, “the backbone of the Public Security system is predominately made up of Cisco networking equipment.”
Pastor Zhang concluded by defending that, “freedom of speech is an inalienable right given to man by God. The US should defend this right. Corporations should not ignore the most basic moral principals and business ethics,” and those that do should be “subject to public criticism, condemnation, and sanctions.”
Chairman Smith invited Harry Wu, Executive Director of Laogai Research Foundation, to say a few words, given that he testified at a prior hearing in 2006, which confronted several American technology companies. Mr. Wu demanded to know how Cisco Systems could support the 2010 Nobel Prize ceremony on one hand, while selling technology and training police in China that lead to the arrests of activists like Liu Xiaobo. Smith replied that “propaganda and secret police are the two mainstays of dictatorship, and Cisco plays a critical role in maintaining both.”
Yet while some Western tech companies benefit from collaborating with the Chinese Communist Party, most face the challenges of complying with censorship regulations or else be completely excluded from the Chinese market. The second panel focused on the major trade implications this has for American companies.
Gil Kaplan, President of the Committee to Support U.S. Trade Laws, noted “China’s blocking and filtering measures…violate numerous of China’s international obligations, including provisions of the WTO General Agreement on Trade and Services.” He hailed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative for its recent request for information under GATS Article III:4, calling on China to bring transparency to its censorship practices.
President of the Computer & Communications Industry Association Ed Black explained that without the threat of serious trade penalties, China will continue to censor, block, and discriminate against foreign-based web services, thus giving their own domestic counterparts a major advantage.
The panel concluded that it is impossible to turn back the clock on China’s censorship technology, but that things must be different going forward. Xiao Qiang, founder of China Digital Times, confirmed that, “at the beginning of China’s internet boom, almost all censorship technologies were imported from the U.S. While over the last ten years, China has succeeded in developing technology domestically, these companies still have close relationships with U.S. companies, and technology transfer continues.” Alex Li made one last final plea, asking that American technology companies confess to their role in China’s censorship machine and apologize to victims and their families. CECC Co-Chairman Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asserted that, “China plays by its own rules because we, regrettably, in our government institution, let them.”
A few photos from the hearing
Chairman Chris Smith opens the hearing
Alex Li testifies about his father's persecution.
Witnesses Alex Li and Pastor John Zhang
Pastor Zhang testifies about Cisco's cooperation wtih the Ministry of Public Security
Rep. Smith calls Harry Wu to the panel to discuss Cisco Systems
Pastor Zhang with Liu Xianbin's daughter, Chen Qiao and Congressman Smith
Download Testimonies Here: