Tarry for the Nonce

January 26, 2006

Let Them Do Their Business

Filed under: News — lmwalker @ 6:39 pm

Am I missing something fundamental? How does Chris Smith justify interfering in Google’s business?

The decision by Chris Smith, a Republican congressman from New Jersey who chairs a House subcommittee on Human Rights, to call for a February 16 hearing to examine the operating procedures of US internet companies in China, represents the first signs of what could become a serious backlash against Google and other internet companies in Washington that are perceived as capitulating to the Chinese government.

What are the hearings supposed to accomplish? Why not let Google incur the righteous wrath of the global market? Why should the government get involved?

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11 Comments

  1. Chris is a man of conviction who believes in justice and the right to life. He has even been critical of fellow Republicans who made too many compromises. I have heard him speak many times and have had several personal conversations with him, even on the steps of the Capitol (two women I know work in his office). He reminds me of Jimmy Stewart’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON.

    If he ran for President, I would vote for him.

    Chris Smith is a wonderful pro-life politician who is very concerned about the issue of human rights. He wants to send a sign to the Internet business community that it should not collaborate with goverments that seek to silence and to oppress their people.

    Back in 2002, China blocked access to Google from Chinese computers and attempted to create its own search engine, with limited results. In return for access, Google has created software to exclude content not approved by the Chinese government.

    Although not mentioned here, Chris Smith no doubt also wants to send a message to Microsoft (MSN) that they are not exempt from such an investigation either. They also censor their search engine for the Chinese and have even taken down Chinese BLOGs deemed political by the government. I read of one case recently where the information provided about the identity of the Blogger was used by the Chinese government to prosecute the man responsible. That means that collaboration with the Communists by Internet companies in the U.S. could lead to the imprisonment or even the torture and execution of men and women in China.

    I would say that was pretty important and given that Chinese slave labor provides many of our goods today; it is doubtful that the business community left to itself would do anything about it.

    Of course, it was our government that has permitted trade with China, despite human rights concerns … and Chris Smith is only one man.

    NOTES:

    CHINESE TRADE
    Smith, who is chairman of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, continued, “Through the efforts of the Clinton Administration, we have abandoned the American ideals of freedom and democracy for the sake of marginally cheaper consumer goods from China. We have squandered our patrimony of liberty for the profit of corporations who want access to China’s inexpensive labor market. It is time to do an about face, to condition expanded trade relations upon respect for internationally recognized, fundamental human rights. If we can promote sanctions for video games and rock-and-roll, why can’t we do it to preserve human rights?”

    CHINA & GOOGLE
    “It is astounding that Google, whose corporate philosophy is ‘don’t be evil,’ would enable evil by cooperating with China’s censorship policies just to make a buck,” said Smith, who has been a leading human rights advocate since being elected to Congress. “China’s policy of cutting off the free flow of information is prohibitive for the growth of democracy and the rule of law. Many Chinese have suffered imprisonment and torture in the service of truth – and now Google is collaborating with their persecutors.”

    Comment by Father Joe — January 29, 2006 @ 11:07 am

  2. Google is an American corporation assisting the Chinese propaganda machine against core American principles. Obviously, this isn’t on the level of the Loral Corporation handing over missile technology, but Congress does have the right to look into this and express its displeasure. Of course, were I in Motorola’s senior leadership, I’d really be chewing my nails right about now.

    And Laura, I’m afraid you have far too much faith in “the global market.” Much like the vaunted “international opinion,” it isn’t really worth much for fighting tyranny. I wouldn’t expect any wrath coming towards Google, other than from a small group of concerned people in the West.

    Comment by Toly — January 29, 2006 @ 11:15 am

  3. I wasn’t able to read the article — not a subscriber to the Financial Times & am not going to become one.

    The China question is quite a difficult one, actually.

    Re:the Congress getting involved in the internet & coming up with regulations therefore…. it is absolutely none of their business. But the US Congress has been very much in the business –since (I would argue) the beginning of the 20th century– of taking it upon itself to regulate many industries in which they have no business interesting themselves.

    So, I’m not sure I agree with you, Toly.

    If we are talking about regulating the Internet, that’s one thing. If we are talking about national security, that’s a very different issue.

    One question that I would ask re:China boycott — whom does a China-made-products boycott hurt?

    China has the fastest growing middle-class in the world. That cannot be anything but good – for the rights of the Chinese people.

    It is time to do an about face, to condition expanded trade relations upon respect for internationally recognized, fundamental human rights.

    This would be a good thing, obviously. But, as I say, the China question is a great deal more complicated than this. China has economic ties around the world. They are beginning to awaken from many years of slumbering while the US & USSR maintained the tense relationship extant during the Cold War. Currently, it is in their best interests to remain ‘friendly’ with the US and its allies. For how long will that situation remain?

    China is a very proprietary nation. Talk about unilateralist — in China’s view their ‘sphere of influence’ is exactly that and none of our business.

    We have to walk on eggshells over Taiwan.

    And much more beyond these very basic concerns.

    As I say — a very complicated issue that is, actually, of pretty grave concern for our nation in this new century.

    Comment by auntlori — January 29, 2006 @ 8:56 pm

  4. GW’s old man, the first George Bush, would agree with arguments that it is better to allow unrestricted business cooperation with China. Although, it seems that we have become as dependent upon their goods as they are with our money. Many of the social changes about which we hoped have failed to materialize. As for myself, I would also argue for political and economic relations with them; but always with strings attached. Our treatment of Taiwan after the Nixon/Ford Administrations has always bothered me. As for Hong Kong, the British made a treaty with a China that no longer existed; they should have been given sovereignty. But those are my pet notions.

    While our country is no paragon of virtue, nations and the world community do have an obligation to insure that businesses and organizations do not trample upon basic human rights. Collaboration with evil makes one an accomplice, for which God will judge each and every one of us. Utilitarian arguments are outrightly rejected by the Catholic Church.

    I recall the arguments about opening Western businesses to China when the first President Bush gave most favored status to China; and certainly no one wants to isolate China from the rest of the world. However, economics is the only wedge short of military intervention that we have with the Communists. Do we sacrifice human rights at the altar of consumerism and materialism, either of the Socialist or Capitalist variety?

    This growing middle-class in China is still less than one percent of the population. Most of the wealth generated goes to a few hundred families among the upper Communist hierarchy. Middle-class in China translates to making between $3,000 to $12,000 a year, what would rate as the poverty level in the U.S. Many of these will themselves have a servant or maid that is paid $50 a month. 70% of the 1.3 billion population are peasants who earn about $100 a year!

    Guess what? Finding computers in schools and coffee-houses, the majority of the bloggers and those questioning Chinese politics are from the poor! Religious persecution is still a predominate cause for Internet censorship and prosecution. This includes the Chinese who reject the Patriotic Catholic Church and accept the authority of the Pope. The Internet is giving people in China a voice to speak out about oppression. Big business left to itself does not care about this; even many in government do not. People who embrace the basic human values in government and business must work together, not only against oppression in lands like China, but also against the passivity and blindness of so many in the West.

    I generally believe that government should not interefere with business; however, I qualify this with the exception of human rights. When Prell Shampoo a few years ago was adding human fetal material to shampoo as “animal protein”– individuals, organizations and government got involved. We have fair labor laws that try to preserve safety and dignity to workers. Products produced by companies must face safety requirements. Again and again, when it comes to human rights, governments and other organizations must get involved.

    China might be on the other side of the globe. But they are people too with basic human rights and dignity. We should not enable, either through inactivity or secondary collaboration, those who would silence the voice of the poor, those yearning to be free.

    Comment by frjoe — January 30, 2006 @ 11:21 am

  5. GW’s old man, the first George Bush, would agree with arguments that it is better to allow unrestricted business cooperation with China.

    I never said that I agree with these arguments. I merely said — and repeat and stand by it — that the China problem is far more complicated than what you originally stated.

    Utilitarian arguments are outrightly rejected by the Catholic Church.

    Utilitarian arguments are rightly rejected by the RC Church as well as by any self-respecting Conservative (of which I count myself one). I simply repeat that the issue is extremely complicated and involves far more than either military intervention or economic ties… which leads me to the next…

    However, economics is the only wedge short of military intervention that we have with the Communists. Do we sacrifice human rights at the altar of consumerism and materialism, either of the Socialist or Capitalist variety?

    Here you have hit on just one of the myriad China difficulties — economic wedges are two-edged. Just as we have much invested in trade with China (consumerism & materialism is only a very small part, in my mind), China has invested throughout the world. They are now one of the primary investors in business in Central America (traditionally our sphere of influence) as well as owning a huge amount of our debt. They have silently and gradually stuck their economic noses into many areas worldwide which gives them tremendous power using your economic wedge. It gives them quite a bit of bargaining power when discussing areas of disagreement with us.

    Again and again, when it comes to human rights, governments and other organizations must get involved.

    I absolutely agree that China is trampling all over human rights — as I said originally, I did not read the article, so I am not exactly sure what it is that Rep. Smith is choosing to investigate. Hence, I am really arguing with a handicap and presume that you and I are actually speaking much from the same page. Unfortunately or not, I prefer to err on the side of conservatism vice activism when OUR government gets itself involved in ANYTHING. There is quite a long history of our federal government getting their foot in the door and then down the slippery slope we go.

    China might be on the other side of the globe. But they are people too with basic human rights and dignity. We should not enable, either through inactivity or secondary collaboration, those who would silence the voice of the poor, those yearning to be free.

    Is this tantamount to an accusation that I am –either through inactivity or secondary collaboration — opposed to human rights for the Chinese or anyone — or are you simply generalizing?

    Really, the basis of my ‘argument’ is merely that the China question is very complicated and that I never like the US Congress to determine for itself when to investigate and when not to investigate ANYthing.

    Comment by auntlori — January 30, 2006 @ 5:22 pm

  6. Generalizing

    Comment by frjoe — January 30, 2006 @ 7:49 pm

  7. Although, it seems that we have become as dependent upon their goods as they are with our money.

    Not really. If we lost trade with China, our economy would no doubt suffer, but we’d find other sources of cheap labor — there’s Malaysia, and Indonesia, and India, and… On the other hand, over 21% of China’s exports go to the U.S. Even if they were to find other willing partners, the loss of business on that scale would completely collapse their economy, which is still very shaky.

    Incidentally, the rise of standards of living do not necessarily bring corresponding expansions of human rights. See Saudi Arabia, or for a less dramatic example, Singapore.

    Comment by Toly — January 30, 2006 @ 11:53 pm

  8. [Again, nothing personal intended by these remarks.]

    A television news report announced that because of contracts with companies like Matel, 90% of all toys sold in the U.S. are manufactured in China. Few Chinese children will ever play with such toys. Autom Catholic Religious Goods catalogues advertise inexpensive articles, almost all from China. However, all of it is reserved to foreign export and domestic circulation would be regarded a crime. Heck, even my DVD Player has “Made in China” on the back.

    Dollar Stores came into existence because of this trade. Other nations could step in, but there is no underestimating its vast scope.

    But you are right, while it would cost us, the U.S. could flex its business muscle for the sake of human rights. But each year the interdependence seems to become more pervasive. There may come a day when such an action would be too costly.

    To illustrate how things have so rapidly changed, it was only in the 1980’s that the last television set wholly manufactured in the U.S. was produced (ZENITH). Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and now also China produce them for us. When it came to clothing, many of us always looked for the “Union Label” and took pride in wearing shirts, pants, and dresses manufactured in the U.S. But the cost disparity became too much for the poor and the average working man. This started happening in the 1960’s. I recall my first concession to the trend when my mother bought me a new coat for school. It was the mid-1960’s and the coat’s label read, “This coat is manufactured by the free people of the Republic of SOUTH VIETNAM.” Evidently it was an effort to support our allies economically while in conflict with the Communist North. I wore that coat with pride, even though I was only in the fourth grade, because (in my mind) it symbolized freedom and justice.

    By the way, there was an expose some years ago about Walmart where reporters followed shirts and pants from China sweatshops to the U.S. They found that they were sold at Walmart carrying the designation, “Made in the U.S.A.” When challenged about this, the executives at Walmart said that there was nothing deceptive for while the clothes were of Chinese origin, the attached label was indeed, made in the Unites States.

    Not deceptive? The label? And these are the people who are supposed to stand up for human rights and justice?

    The dilemma about the Internet is just the newest wrinkle in this situation: how far do you collaborate with thugs to make a buck? Where arguments might be made that trade helps the poor and middle class of China; for an American or Western company to assist in the restriction of information and free speech of Chinese dissidents is something else. And to hand over information that leads to the arrest, imprisonment, and maybe torture of such people is the worst case scenerio.

    I am not utterly opposed to trade with China.

    But I do have problems with Google installing censorship software at the behest of the Chinese government that blocks religious sites like the Vatican and Free the Fathers and Blogs where men and women yearning to be free speak out.

    The Chinese tried to create their own search engine back in 2002 and made a mess of things. We should not be helping them in this. It is a criminal act, at least in the eyes of God.

    Comment by frjoe — January 31, 2006 @ 9:11 am

  9. Well, to take the other side of the argument, I’m far from settled as to how much we should sacrifice for the principle of promoting human rights around the world. The trade with China is a huge part of the U.S. economy, with both sides benefitting a great deal.

    Furthermore, I am not convinced that ending or restricting trade with China would result in greater concern for human rights there. I can’t think of a single example where this worked. (I suppose apartheid in South Africa could be an example, but SA was already a westernized democracy and its population was amenable to the message. China is ultimately an oligarchy whose leadership is not interested in a lecture from the West. Any radical action on our part is at least as likely to have a very negative effect on the government. You’ll note that the self-imposed isolation of North Korea has not exactly resulted in a thousand flowers blooming, to borrow a phrase.)

    Then there are the strategic implications of starting a new cold war with China.

    So the real question is, just how much economic and political damage are we willing to take, just to make a point? And shall we apply the standard equally to other nations who are our trading partners? Because we buy oil from some truly unsavory characters…

    Comment by Toly — January 31, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

  10. I am not an isolationist.

    You are right, we bargain with the devil every day.

    We can hope that our relationships with the Red Chinese and Moslem extremists will make a difference; but we should never let down our guard and directly cooperate in human oppression. Communism is not dead, and instances of free enterprise can disappear tomorrow if the dragon awakens. Some of our so-called allies in the war against terror are themselves corrupt and oppress minorities, women and others. Is the pacified Westernized Islam that we see here at home the true faith of Mohammed; or is its genuine face really the Hamas and the extremism that we see in the Middle East and now parts of Africa and Asia?

    Trade with China will not in itself prevent a new Cold War. Indeed, their military buildup is largely financed with our own money. Oil money in the Middle East can also translate into a fearful New World. I am not sure what we can do about much of this. Such questions will not be resolved by bloggers, but at least we have the freedom to speak, which some do not have. And Western and American companies should not help to silence voices.

    I only wish people in all walks of life would more effectively engage these issues and that politicians would devise a clear plan about where our policies are taking us. We tend to be so short-sighted, instead of looking to the horizon.

    I cannot say I disagree outrightly with anything posted here. I just wanted to add a few things to the mix.

    PEACE

    Comment by frjoe — January 31, 2006 @ 8:46 pm

  11. But I do have problems with Google installing censorship software at the behest of the Chinese government that blocks religious sites like the Vatican and Free the Fathers and Blogs where men and women yearning to be free speak out.

    And many other blogs, no doubt. It seems to me that ‘punishing’ Google is the best option — but, again, should the federal government get involved in that? I also agree with Toly that the ‘marketplace’ is probably not the most effective tool for doing so. So, is this a no-win situation?

    I only wish people in all walks of life would more effectively engage these issues and that politicians would devise a clear plan about where our policies are taking us. We tend to be so short-sighted, instead of looking to the horizon.

    Politicians – we should throw out the Senate and start over from scratch (after repealing the 17th Amendment, of course).

    I cannot say I disagree outrightly with anything posted here. I just wanted to add a few things to the mix.

    I, too, do not necessarily disagree with anything that has been said so far. It is a complex issue – unfortunately. I suppose you could argue that ALL international relations are complex. As the Cold War with the USSR recedes further and further into memory, worldwide terrorism and China loom on the horizon of the 21st Century.

    I am reading an interesting book on American Foreign Policy. I highly recommend it. It’s a fairly quick read.

    Comment by auntlori — February 1, 2006 @ 6:40 pm


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