Wednesday, June 24, 2009

U.S. Trade Officials Say China Web Filter Breaks WTO Rules

Via -

Senior U.S. trade officials have called on China to revoke an order for all personal computers in China to be shipped with Web-filtering software, saying the requirement could conflict with China's obligations under the World Trade Organization.

According to a U.S. government official familiar with the matter, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke urged the Chinese government to reverse its decision in joint letters submitted to two Chinese ministries on Wednesday. It was the highest-level U.S. complaint so far against the software rules, due to take effect on July 1, and escalated a dispute over a plan that has already angered free-speech advocates.

The letters, sent separately to China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Commerce, said the Chinese move raises "fundamental questions about regulatory transparency and compliance with a number of WTO rules," the official said.

U.S. technology industry groups warn that the filtering software could depress sales of PCs in China, the world's second largest PC market in terms of shipments.

The software, which the government says was designed to filter out pornography and other content inappropriate for children, has been found by researchers both inside and outside China to be capable of filtering political content as well. It would add an extra layer to China's already wide-reaching methods of regulating the Internet.

The researchers say the software has major security flaws, even after its Chinese creator, Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co., made alterations to it last week. They also say that parts of the program were copied from software produced in the U.S.—an allegation that Jinhui has denied.

WTO rules include agreements that are meant to prevent governments from erecting protectionist barriers to trade.

MIIT spokesman Wang Lijian declined to comment. "We don't have any updates on Green Dam for now," he said.

The U.S. letters "expressed that the U.S. government is seriously concerned about the Green Dam [requirement], including wide-ranging concerns about the scope of the measure, the censorship implications, trade impact and security flaws which create serious problems for the IT industry and Chinese consumers," the U.S. official said.

The official indicated that concerns over the past several weeks have been magnified by the Chinese government's unwillingness to explain the intent and scope of the new measure, which was introduced at short notice. Earlier, U.S. officials from the State and Commerce departments, as well as USTR officials based in Beijing, met with officials from MIIT and the Ministry of Commerce to express concerns that Green Dam would restrict access to the Internet and infringe on "internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression."

Separately, Japanese officials met with MIIT officials on Wednesday to express concern about Green Dam, according to a Japanese embassy official, who asked not to be identified. "The Japanese government also has a very big concern about this problem," the Japanese official said.

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