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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Boycott the whole lot – Yahoo!, Cisco and others…?

It’s easy to be shocked this side of firewall. I do not like Yahoo!’s complicity with the Chinese communists either but if we are to boycott them for it, let’s not leave out Cisco, for example. It was Cisco who provided the infrastructure that made Yahoo!’s self-censorship a gesture of compliance necessary for continuing their business in China at all:

In the United States, Cisco is known (among other things) for building corporate firewalls to block viruses and hackers. In China, the government had a unique problem: how to keep a billion people from accessing politically sensitive websites, now and forever.

The way to do it would be this: If a Chinese user tried to view a website outside China with political content, such as CNN.com, the address would be recognized by a filter program that screens out forbidden sites. The request would then be thrown away, with the user receiving a banal message: “Operation timed out.” Great, but China’s leaders had a problem: The financial excitement of a wired China quickly led to a proliferation of eight major Internet service providers (ISPs) and four pipelines to the outside world. To force compliance with government objectives–to ensure that all pipes lead back to Rome–they needed the networking superpower, Cisco, to standardize the Chinese Internet and equip it with firewalls on a national scale. According to the Chinese engineer, Cisco came through, developing a router device, integrator, and firewall box specially designed for the government’s telecom monopoly. At approximately $20,000 a box, China Telecom “bought many thousands” and IBM arranged for the “high-end” financing. Michael confirms: “Cisco made a killing. They are everywhere.”

True, freedom and opposition to a brutal regime should be more important than profits and voicing our disgust with global companies’ perverse priorities is necessary to alter them. By the way, Perry, did anyone call for a boycott of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola companies during the Cold War? I remember the drinks in their distinctive bottles that put some fizz into my rather gloomy childhood under communism. Hmmm.

The issue is more complicated than a simple call for boycott of the global companies that have more than the Western face and are operating in repressed political regimes. In the article by Ethan Gutmann, “Who Lost China’s Internet?” (quoted above), a Yahoo! representative puts forward a kind of ‘moral appeasement’ case given the two options – either you please the Chinese state ‘big mama’ watching the Internet or the Chinese people have no internet at all.

It is interesting, to say the least, that it was Microsoft who did not give in to the Chinese authorities and demonstrated that what is “normal” in China can be altered under duress.

When Chinese authorities ordered Microsoft to surrender its software’s underlying source codes–the keys to encryption–as the price of doing business there, Microsoft chose to fight, spearheading an unprecedented Beijing-based coalition of American, Japanese, and European Chambers of Commerce. Faced with being left behind technologically, the Chinese authorities dropped their demands. Theoretically, China’s desire to be part of the Internet should have given the capitalists who wired it similar leverage. Instead, the leverage all seems to have remained with the government, as Western companies fell all over themselves bidding for its favor. AOL, Netscape Communications, and Sun Microsystems all helped disseminate government propaganda by backing the China Internet Corporation, an arm of the state-run Xinhua news agency.

So, boycott them all or ask ourselves whether “there is only one way to deal with a company like Yahoo and make them pay a price in the market for their collaboration with the brutal regime in Peking”.

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