3/17/07

China, Google and the Jews

More on Google, a reprint from last year:
Congressman Tom Lantos soundly chastised Google last week for kowtowing to the Chinese by censoring Google.CN, the Chinese language search engine they offer in China.

Lantos is a Holocaust survivor. He is also a member of the House International Relations Committee. His criticism was colored by his opinion that corporate support of authoritarian repression is always wrong.

Invoking the memory of those companies that did business with Hitler's Germany, Lantos challenged our high tech industry, asking their representatives, "Are you ashamed?" According to the New York Times he pressed them, "Was Cisco ashamed of selling networking equipment to the Chinese police? Was Microsoft ashamed of taking down a blog because the government disapproved of its content? Was Yahoo ashamed of turning over data that led to the arrest and imprisonment of Shi Tao, a journalist who had used an anonymous Yahoo e-mail account to leak a government memo to the foreign media? Was Google - yes, "don't be evil" Google - ashamed of setting up a Chinese search engine that filtered out Web sites that the government wanted blocked, sites that used such forbidden words as 'democracy?'"

I sympathize with Lantos and the activist community trying to bring greater democracy to the world. So I browsed to the censored Chinese site, google.cn, and searched for 'Tiananmen Square'. And yes, the results were different from those you'd get by searching the non-censored English site at google.com. The first two search results in the China site led to neutral and probably government sponsored sites. But the third entry linked to a site that had graphic pictures of the 1989 massacre with descriptions like, "The bodies of dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing's Tiananmen Square early June 4, 1989." If the censorship of google.cn is intended, it is not very effective.

I agree that all censorship is a threat to freedom and our values. But I also believe that the interests of the State of Israel are important when weighing the merits of international political issues.

So I ask, Is it good for Israel for us here to harshly chastise China for censoring the Internet and limiting its democracy? The answer I have reached is, no, for the following reasons.

China has just in the past weeks refrained from a veto and thus allowed the question of Iran's nuclear weapons program to be reported to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions - a clear victory for Israel.

Further, a Chinese colleague of mine, Professor Xu Xin, has made it clear recently in speeches and through his work on position papers that it is important to Jews and to Israel to foster stronger ties with China.

I trust Xu's judgment. I've known him since 1991 when I met him at Nanjing University. He was translating the Encyclopedia Judaica into Chinese and I discussed with him numerous technical questions. Then in 1996 he stayed at our home in New Jersey when he lectured at a local synagogue.

Xu says, according to Anthony Weiss writing recently in The Forward, that, "In addition to China's growing concern about the dangers of Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons, Beijing has begun pointing to ties between Al Qaeda and Muslim separatist groups in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. According to Xu, although the Chinese government would not say so openly, Beijing believes that Israel is not a threat. Islamic fundamentalism is a threat."

I do know that Israel has been seeking closer relations with China for a long time. When I visited Beijing back in 1991 I met with the Israeli representative Dr. Yoseph Shalhevet, the liaison officer of the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities in Beijing. A year later Israel established formal relations with China.

My conclusion then is mixed. Google and the other tech companies ought to be ashamed at the compromises they are forced to make. However, we should restrain our criticism because the interests of the West and of Israel in particular are served by fostering better relations with China in spite of the authoritarian nature of its regime.

[In 1991 I traveled and lectured extensively in Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing and Xian, China.]

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Would you kindly post your feelings about China's oppression of Falun Gong?