The Obama administration publicly admonished China Wednesday for its vast online censorship policies, for the first time officially complaining that blocking U.S.-based internet sites creates “barriers” to free trade.
The administration, citing World Trade Organization rules, is demanding that China explain its censorship policies. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk’s office made the demands after a three-year lobbying campaign by the First Amendment Coalition.
“This development is important because it signals the U.S. government’s implicit acceptance of FAC’s position that censorship of the internet can breach the international trade rules enforced by the WTO,” said Peter Scheer, the group’s executive director.
U.S.-based websites blocked in whole or in part by the so-called “Great Firewall of China” include YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo and even the Huffington Post.
In response, China on Thursday blasted the administration.
“We oppose using internet freedom as an excuse to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
The Obama administration’s move is the first step of a long WTO process that theoretically could end up with trade restrictions imposed on Chinese exports.
“The United States is seeking detailed information on the trade impact of Chinese policies that may block U.S. companies’ websites in China, creating commercial barriers that especially hurt America’s small business,” Kirk’s office announced.
It’s doubtful the United States would push to limit Chinese-made goods in the United States. After all, that’s where most everything American is made.
Instead, it’s much more likely that the United States’ actions of wanting China to cough up the criteria it uses to require censorship is largely a symbolic move to highlight the evils of censorship and to try to advance the business interests of the U.S.’s leading tech firms in the world’s fastest-growing internet market.