Tuesday, October 4

Yahoo! awarded Pundita's Neville Chamberlain Prize for 2005

With so many appeasers in the running it was a tough choice, but finally nosed ahead of the pack.

With assistance from Yahoo's Hong Kong office, Beijing secured an email from Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist, which proved he'd posted information about the Tianamen Square massacre on an overseas website. Yahoo's help netted, if you'll pardon the expression, a 10-year prison sentence for Shi Tao.

The Neville Chamberlain Prize is a potbellied urn painted a tasteful yellow color with ashes of copies of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights sealed inside.

"Way cool! We're thrilled and proud to receive this recognition of our efforts to further America's cooperation with China's government," commented a spokesperson for Yahoo! Holdings Ltd. in Hong Hong who asked not to be named. "But which ISP does Neville Chamberlain work for?"

Yahoo's part in Shi Tao's arrest and April 30 conviction is old news to Internet watchdogs, democracy/human rights supporters and defenders of press freedoms. However, Yahoo's willing -- I emphasize willing -- collaboration with China's police state takes on new urgency in light of the rout of democracy in Taishi Village and Beijing's forcible closing of a Chinese website that reported on the situation.

What's striking about the Yahoo! situation is that they were not under legal obligation to cooperate with China's police in the Shi Tao matter. According to Reporters Without Borders (emphasis mine):
[...] the verdict reveals that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided the Chinese investigating organs with detailed information that apparently enabled them to link Shi’s personal e-mail account [...] and the specific message containing information treated as a “state secret” to the IP address of his computer.

Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) is subject to Hong Kong legislation, which does not spell out the responsibilities in this kind of situation of companies that provide e-mail services

Nonetheless, it is reportedly customary for e-mail service and Internet access providers to transmit information to the police about their clients when shown a court order. [...]

For years Yahoo! has allowed the Chinese version of its search engine to be censored. In 2002, Yahoo! voluntarily
signed the "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry", agreeing to abide by PRC censorship regulations. [...](1)
So the wording of the documents Yahoo! signed gave them plenty of wiggle room to not cooperate with the "custom" of foreign companies complying with a police order claiming jurisdiction over the Internet.

Yet clearly, they were under some kind of pressure from China's authorities to comply with custom. However, the pressure was just as clearly not spelled out. The reported custom was not committed to writing, much less a legally binding document. So what is China really up to? Watch carefully, don't blink:

If you study the pattern of China's actions regarding Internet restrictions, it jumps out that China's government is not spending mega-yuan to go after postings to websites that the vast majority of Chinese citizens never see. They are using the cooperation of foreign computer companies to help them establish a body of legal precedents, which shore their case for government control of the Internet.

To what end? China's government is cleverly using the rule of law against the very countries that govern according to the rule of law. They are using the rule of law in the same way Hitler did: to help them legitimize a rule by military force.

In the years during the runup to Germany's invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler took pains to provide other European governments with numerous opportunities to lodge formal protests that had clout behind them.

Each time an opportunity was not taken, this only emboldened Hitler's forces. The same pattern is in evidence with the People's Republic of China. They find no resistance whenever they push against the Western democracies even though China always provides clear openings for the democracies to push back.

How to respond to China's version of Hitler's ploy? Well, today's Western transnational corporations don't have the kind of management that fits them to stand up to anything bigger than a stiff breeze. So at least in America, it's past time for the US Department of State and the Congress to step up to the plate.

The Congress needs to summon Yahoo! and their American corporate fellow travelers before a commission and tell them, "You don't have to volunteer be a collaborator. Ring up the Congress, the next time you get the idea that to keep doing business in China you have to abide by every Chinese custom."

Congress also needs to summon Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before a closed-door hearing and explain that no matter how many careers she has to destroy at State, America's foreign office needs to stop playing China's door mat.

Also, US senators who keep abreast of doings in China by relying on expert opinion from US policy institutes that are apologists for China's dictatorship need to instruct their aides to cross those sources off their list.

1) From a Reporters Without Borders report on the verdict in Shi Tao's case. According to the report:
Shi Tao worked for the daily Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News). He was convicted on 30 April of sending foreign-based websites the text of an internal message which [China's] authorities had sent to his newspaper warning journalists of the dangers of social destabilisation and risks resulting from the return of certain dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
For more information on the Yahoo-Shi Tao situation, click on the above link.

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