CFAC, June 16, 2008--The California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) will testify before a Congressional commission this week concerning the Chinese government’s system of internet censorship, which CFAC is challenging as a violation of free trade treaties enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The hearings on “Access to Information and Media Control in the People’s Republic of China” are being held Wednesday, June 18, in Washington, DC, before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan commission created by Congress. The hearings will cover a range of topics concerning China’s information control policies, including information on ethnic unrest, participation by U.S. technology companies in internet censorship, and the application of WTO treaties to the “Great Firewall,” as China’s censorship system has come to be known.
Testifying for CFAC is Gilbert Kaplan, a trade law expert in Washington, who represents CFAC in its WTO initiative. In briefings to the US Trade Representative (USTR), the executive branch office that represents the U.S. government at the WTO, CFAC has contested China’s blocking of many US-based and other western websites that are either deemed offensive by Chinese government censors, or are feared by the government as potential platforms for self-expression by Chinese citizens.
Some major websites subject to recent blocking, according to CFAC, are:
BBC News (news. bbc.co.uk)
Also blocked by the Great Firewall are the websites of many US-based Chinese language newspapers and other media, including:
Chicago Chinese News
Chinese Daily News
Overseas Chinese News
Sing Tao Daily
Chinese American Voice
Sing Tao Radio
Even when popular US-based websites are not being completely blocked inside China, the websites’ performance is seriously degraded by the Great Firewall, which adds several seconds (or more) to websites’ loading times, as experienced by people in China, says CFAC. This performance deficit puts US-based websites at a severe disadvantage compared to their Chinese competitors, whose websites’ function normally inside China.
CFAC has argued to the USTR that these practices violate the major treaties on international trade--the “GATT” and “GATS” treaties--to which China became subject when it joined the WTO in 2001. CFAC is petitioning the USTR to file a complaint against China with the WTO. A WTO ruling against China would put enormous pressure on the government of China to change its practices.
Also testifying at the hearing on Wednesday are Charles Freeman, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Xiao Qiang, Director, China Internet Project, University of California-Berkeley, and Ronald J. Deibert, Director, Citizen Lab-Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, and Principal Investigator for the OpenNet Initiative, among other witnesses.
CFAC is supported in its China initiative by a consortium of organizations, including the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, and the China Internet Project at UC Berkeley, among others.
Kaplan, CFAC’s lawyer, is a partner in the law firm of King & Spalding and specialist in international disputes involving price discrimination, government subsidies and intellectual property infringement. As a senior government official, Kaplan was in charge of enforcing U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty laws for the Department of Commerce in the 1980s.
CFAC, a nonprofit organization, advocates for Freedom of Speech and more open and accountable government. In addition to education programs and providing free legal consultations to journalists, ethnic media, bloggers and activists, CFAC files test-case lawsuits. In early 2008 CFAC organized the legal defense of wikileaks.org, a controversial and innovative whistleblower website that had been shut down by a federal court order.
CFAC’s website is at http://www.cfac.org
For more information about the Wednesday hearings or about CFAC, contact CFAC executive director Peter Scheer.