Clinton to China: Tear down that firewall

A "new information curtain is descending" says the Secretary of State. The Chinese will not be amused

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 22, 2010 2:30AM (EST)

After a week or so of relative restraint, on Wednesday China's propaganda masters decided enough was enough, and finally authorized attacks on Google in two state-run media outlets.

From the Financial Times:

Global Times, a nationalist tabloid owned by People's Daily, the Communist party mouthpiece, ran an editorial with the headline: "The world does not welcome the White House's Google".

"Whenever the US government demands it, Google can easily become a convenient tool for promoting the US government's political will and values abroad. And actually the US government is willing to do so," the piece said.

But if the goal was to encourage Hillary Clinton to tone down her major speech on Internet freedom, delivered on Thursday, the effort failed. Clinton mentioned China's name seven times in her speech, mostly  in unfavorable contexts, and there simply can't be any doubt about the target of this paragraph:

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world's networks. They've expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world. And beyond this partition, viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of our day.

A "new information curtain"?! Did Hillary Clinton just declare a Cold War against China?

Clinton's speech was full of noteworthy moments. She said that "censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere" and that "in America, American companies need to make a principled stand." (Are Microsoft and Yahoo listening?). She declared that that "We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world's information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it." She also endorsed a universal "freedom to connect."

The freedom to connect -- the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the Internet, to Web sites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate.

Not to mention, search for stuff on Google. China may or may not be correct to argue that Google is a "convenient tool" for the U.S. to promote its values. But Hillary Clinton certainly made a forceful case on Thursday for a set of values that would be very, very good for Google.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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China Google Hillary Rodham Clinton How The World Works