US urges China to scrap internet filter plan

Top United States officials have urged China to abandon its controversial plan requiring all new personal computers to be sold with internet-filtering software from next week, warning the step could violate world trade rules.

The row has become another irritant in bilateral ties at a time when governments are looking to the US and China to help drag the world economy out of its slump.

The US and the European Union said on Tuesday they were taking a complaint to the World Trade Organisation over China’s export curbs on some industrial raw materials. China rejected those charges, saying its policies were in line with WTO rules.

US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk voiced their concerns over the “Green Dam” software in a joint letter to their Chinese counterparts.

“China is putting companies in an untenable position by requiring them, with virtually no public notice, to pre-install software that appears to have broad-based censorship implications and network security issues,” Locke said in a statement on Wednesday.

China says the filtering software is needed to protect children from pornographic and violent images and has insisted the deadline of July 1 for all new computers to be sold with Green Dam will not change.

Critics have said the software, sold by Jinhui Computer System Engineering, is technically flawed and could be used to spy on internet users and to block other sites that Beijing considers politically offensive.

“Protecting children from inappropriate content is a legitimate objective, but this is an inappropriate means and is likely to have a broader scope,” Kirk said.

“Mandating technically flawed Green Dam software and denying manufacturers and consumers freedom to select filtering software is an unnecessary and unjustified means to achieve that objective, and poses a serious barrier to trade,” Kirk added.

The proposed new rules raised fundamental questions regarding the transparency of China’s regulatory practices and concerns about compliance with WTO rules, the US officials said.

They said they had heard numerous complaints from global technology companies, Chinese citizens and the worldwide media about the stability of the software, the scope and extent of the filtering activities and its security weaknesses.

Some Chinese internet users are calling on fellow web surfers to stay offline on July 1 in a low-key protest against the filter.

Google blocked
The software plan coincides with a campaign by China’s internet watchdog against Google and disruptions to the US company’s websites in China.

The watchdog last week ordered the world’s biggest search engine to stop overseas websites with “pornographic and vulgar” content from being accessed through its Chinese-language search engine.

Late on Wednesday evening internet users in China were unable to open several Google sites.

Users in Shanghai and Beijing said they got an error message when they tried to reach Google’s main search page, its Chinese search page and mail service between about 10pm and 11pm local time.

It was not clear how widespread the blockage was.

A company spokesperson at Google in the United States said the firm was checking reports of problems with access in China. Most users appeared to get access again by 11pm.

Google’s problems illustrate the difficulties faced by foreign internet firms doing business in the world’s largest online market while avoiding charges of censorship.—Reuters

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