A feud over internet censorship is souring relations between the US and China. That feud started with a sophisticated attack on the email accounts of Chinese human-rights activists. Google responded by threatening to pull out of China completely unless China agreed to end internet censorship.

Hillary Clinton and the state department soon decided to get into the mix and the result now includes renewed pressure on China to revalue the Renmimbi (yuan) higher, climate change, and policy in the Mideast.

With that backdrop, please consider China Rebuffs Clinton on Internet Warning.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry lashed out Friday against criticism of China in a speech on Internet censorship made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, calling on the United States government “to respect the truth and to stop using the so-called Internet freedom question to level baseless accusations.”

Ma Zhaoxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a written statement posted Friday afternoon on the ministry’s Web site that the criticism leveled by Mrs. Clinton on Thursday was “harmful to Sino-American relations.”

“The Chinese Internet is open,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton’s sweeping speech with its cold war undertones — likening the information curtain to the Iron Curtain — criticized several countries by name, including China, for Internet censorship. It was the first speech in which a top administration official offered a vision for making Internet freedom an integral part of foreign policy.

Mrs. Clinton pointedly said that “a new information curtain is descending across much of the world” and identified China as one of a handful of countries that had stepped up Internet censorship in the past year.

Articles on the Chinese-language Web site of The Global Times asserted that the United States employs the Internet as a weapon to achieve worldwide hegemony.

The American demand for an unfettered Internet was a form of “information imperialism,” the newspaper said, because less developed nations cannot possibly compete with Western countries in the arena of information flow.

One big question is whether ordinary Chinese will, to any large degree, accept China’s arguments justifying Internet censorship. Although urban, middle-class Chinese often support government policies on sovereignty issues such as Tibet or Taiwan, they generally deride media censorship. That feeling is especially pronounced among those who call themselves netizens. China has the most Internet users of any country, some 384 million by official count, but also the most complex system of Internet censorship, nicknamed the Great Firewall.

Except in the western region of Xinjiang, which is only starting to restore Internet access after cutting service off entirely after ethnic riots in July, canny netizens across China use software to get over the Great Firewall while chafing at the controls.

Blatant Lies

First let’s address blatant lies. The easiest lie to rebut is “The Chinese Internet is open” a statement made by Ma Zhaoxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. The Chinese internet is not open and this blog being blocked in China is proof enough.

China Financial Markets by Michael Pettis, the best blog anywhere dedicated to the Chinese economy, is also blocked.

For what’s its worth (and not much), I encourage Google to stick to their guns and exit China completely if the alternative is censorship.

Lies out of the way, let’s look further at how things are heating up.

China Hits Back

The Wall Street Journal reports China Hits Back at U.S. on Net Freedom.

The strained relationship between Beijing and Washington took another hit Friday as China accused the Obama administration of leveling “groundless charges” after allegations that Chinese hackers penetrated computer systems of dozens of U.S. companies, including Google Inc.

The Chinese accusations also come amid increasing signs of tensions between the two countries on a wide range of Obama administration priorities, including climate change, economic-recovery measures, and perhaps most importantly in the near term, sanctions on Iran.

“The relationship has headed quite a bit south since President Obama’s trip to China—lots of new frictions, a more intransigent attitude on the part of the Chinese,” said Nicholas Lardy, an expert on China-U.S. relations at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

No issue could more complicate President Barack Obama’s ambitious agenda to reshape American foreign policy than Beijing’s attitude toward Iran, a key oil supplier to China.

The most recent indication that the Obama administration’s push toward Iran sanctions may get hung up by China came Jan. 16, when Beijing failed to send a senior representative to a U.N. meeting of the five permanent Security Council, plus Germany, which was intended to plot a way forward on sanctions.

For the Obama administration, which came into office with hopes of working closely with Beijing on economic and climate issues, China’s new intransigence is likely to reverberate across its foreign-policy agenda.

At last month’s climate-change conference in Copenhagen, U.S. and Chinese diplomats engaged in public sniping over emissions verification rules, culminating in an incident in which when Mr. Obama walked in on a meeting that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was secretly holding with his counterparts from other developing countries.

Similarly, despite continued U.S. entreaties, Beijing has declined to respond to pressure to revalue its currency, which some economists have argued has benefited China’s economy at the expense of the rest of the world’s. A weaker currency boosts China’s exports on world markets.

2010 began with a pledge from Obama to warm relations with China. That pledge is now in the ash heap of history.

Looking back to the presidential campaign, please remember Obama’s campaign pledge was “change you can believe in”. Obama never promised “change you could actually see.”

The above sentences in red paraphrase something I read in an online article. I do not recall the source or the exact quote. Regardless, it was one of the few significant presidential campaign pledges perfectly honored.

Pledges made since then clearly do not count.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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