Thursday, February 02, 2006

Google's Statement to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus

I've had a dialog with many of my friends regarding Google's recent drubbing for taking its position on limited censoring of its searches in China so they can conduct business there. My own feeling is that the Internet should indeed be free and open to all. However, it's a lot like opening Pandora's Box. Once you open it and the contents come flying out, then you can't put it all back in again, try as you may. Being Chinese, I tend to look at China a little differently. I have traveled there and I have done business there and I still have distant relatives there. It has come a long way from where it was 50 years ago; it has made even more phenomenal leaps in the past decade, much to the surprise of everyone in the West. I believe that the Chinese are a fiercely independent and competitive culture but in a much, much different way than we are over here. As a matter of fact, if he were alive today, my Father may well have made that journey back there and he would have marveled at the country that he swore he would never set foot in again.

One example I use a lot in debates with my Western colleagues regarding change is to cite the handovers of Macau and Hong Kong from their colonialist governments. Very few people would argue that those transitions could be deemed as incredibly successful. And with little meddling on the part of Beijing. I also use the example of Tiananmen Square and compare it to our very own Kent State. Each was a frightening staredown between protesters and the government; each resulted in the deaths of a lot of civilians. China has never criticized us for Kent State but Tiananmen Square continues to be a big rallying cry when it comes to American human rights groups as their best example of Chinese repression.

Personally -- and of course this is strictly my own humble opinion -- I've tried to imagine myself as one of those old dudes sitting in Beijing when it all came down. You have to remember that Russia had just had their own Red Square facedown with Mikhail Gorbachev going out and Boris Yeltsin coming in. While it was a remarkable piece of history and drama, what with the Berlin Wall coming down and President Reagan declaring that the Cold War had finally ended, it marked the beginning of a new era of poverty and pandemonium for the Russian people. Something that may well take them another 50 years to dig themselves out of. Services were in complete disarray, the Russian mob stepped in and took over a lot of businesses and the entire Russian republic fell apart (and is still a mess today). Looking at that aftermath, I don't think I would blame the old politburos in Beijing for wanting to slow down or stop a big rebellion like the one in Red Square. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out -- not in the least. In fact, I openly laud them for their decision at that point in history. I can't even begin to imagine what might have happened if the same turmoil had happened in a country with a population over 5 times larger than Russia. In hindsight, those decisions have borne themselves out well; China continues to grow exponentially, capitalism appears to be encouraged and thriving now and China is quickly becoming a real superpower in this decade. All with little potential of major war like we'd had with the Russians during the Cold War. If the past 10 years are any indication, we may well see more dramatic changes in the next ten to come. And would I be surprised if China surpasses us in many of the social principles that we so proudly flaunt to the rest of the world? Just as it takes a lot to turn a cruise ship around in mid-ocean, so it is with the world's most populous country.

I think that over time (and we're not talking about a lot here either), the futility of trying to control something like the Internet will overwhelm the Chinese government's current efforts. They'll eventually realize it and move on to bigger and better things. But we Americans have to have stuff to thump our chest about. I only hope that when the open Pandora's Box eventually comes back and bites us in the ass one day that we're ready for it ourselves.

Moreover, since when did it become the job of businesses trying to do business in foreign countries to do the will of the government? I always was under the impression that it was the other way around (stupid me) and that our government should be doing everything in its power to talk to other governments about opening up their trade borders on all fronts (including electronic). Businesses per se have little control -- and shouldn't -- over governments in other countries. When in Rome...

And here's another thought to ponder: Our human rights advocates are screaming about what Google should do in China as a corporation. So let me get this straight: You want Big Business to affect government in a foreign country? How about we have big business affect government here at home? Omigod -- you CAN'T do that! We hate lobbyists, we don't want large corporations influencing government, wah, wah, wah. Just remember 'What goes around comes around.' If we're so willing to dictate how this is all going to come down in someone else's backyard, we'd better be prepared to suck it up and swallow it over here.

I applaud Google for their decision to launch in China after negotiating some terms that they could live with and allow them to bring their technology to the general population. Simply put, you can't play if you don't have a seat at the table. And I think I'd rather have Google at the table. Moreover, as I understand it, Google struck a somewhat more creative and liberal approach than Yahoo or Microsoft. Yahoo in fact recently had to hand over the name of a dissident blogger and that dude is in jail right now as I post this blog.

It was interesting that Congress called a hearing on this issue and no one showed up. However, Google did officially send a statement and you can read it in its entirety here.

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