Thursday, September 08, 2005

Drinks all round, chaps

Commenting on the disgraceful episode of the internet giant Yahoo helping the Chinese authorities convict a dissident journalist, a Telegraph leader goes some way towards making up for the paper’s bad taste on the Garland cartoon.

Yahoo, it writes, stands accused of helping Beijing to send a dissident journalist to prison for 10 years. The company is said to have supplied the authorities with computer records proving that Shi Tao had posted on the internet an internal government document banning the Chinese media from commenting on last year's 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

It is easy to understand, says the paper, why Yahoo should have wished to co-operate with the Chinese government. The company recently invested some £550 million in the Chinese internet sector. It had its shareholders to consider, as well as its undertakings to abide by Chinese law. It continues:

Why, the company may have asked itself, should Yahoo have felt any duty of confidentiality to an individual customer who was knowingly breaking the law of the land - no matter how offensive that law may appear to Western eyes. From a strictly legalistic point of view, Yahoo may have felt that it had no more duty to protect Mr Shi than to shield a pedlar of child pornography from the consequences of publishing his filth on the internet in Britain.

But the affair still leaves a foul taste in the mouth. The Chinese government is one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth, clinging to power by the ruthless suppression of any sort of dissent. Western companies - and Yahoo is by no means alone in this - have shown themselves much too ready to ingratiate themselves with this odious regime, in the hope of cashing in on the vast Chinese market.
One could remark, rather sourly, that the company is only following to the footsteps of others, who also add hypocrisy to their many sins. Note, for instance, this extract from the joint statement of the 8th EU-China Summit, signed by Tony Blair and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao:

The two sides underlined their commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights and continued to place a high value on the EU-China human rights dialogue. They underlined the importance of concrete steps in the field of human rights and reaffirmed their commitment to further enhance co-operation and exchanges in this field on the basis of equality and mutual respect, while making efforts to achieving more meaningful and positive results on the ground.
It seems, however, that the only "concrete" steps are locking up journalists in concrete cells. No wonder Blair doesn't look like he is enjoying his champagne.


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