US issues demands to China on ‘Great Firewall’

Ratcheting up its increasingly stern line with Beijing on trade issues, Washington has added concerns about China’s infamous Great Firewall saying that it may be hurting US companies’ access to Chinese consumers.

This concern, amongst others, was put forth in a letter by US Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Michael Punke to his Chinese compatriot.

“Some companies based outside of China have faced challenges offering their services to Chinese customers when their websites are blocked by China’s national firewall,” Punke wrote, also adding that the US government had heard concerns from “a number of service suppliers” about the issue.

The US also, as reported by Reuters, lodged a complaint with the WTO on this issue.

A US Trade Representative warned that China’s firewall may be hurting US businesses. Citing concerns by US companies about periodic disruptions to their sites in China announced the US, the representative has filed papers with Beijing to get details on how China’s web policies affect trade in services, using WTO transparency requirements.

In the nearly 50-questions posed to the rising superpower, the US tries to ascertain who is responsible for blocking websites and when and why blocking is instituted.

“The United States would like to better understand China’s rules governing website blocking so that service suppliers based outside of China may adopt appropriate policies to avoid encountering this problem”, a statement from a US trade representative explained.

The statement was at pains to point out that the issues the US was raising were not connected with the political blocks in place through the Great Firewall, but rather trade issues.

“While the United States believes that the best internet policy is to encourage the free flow of information globally, the United States’s WTO request relates specifically to the commercial and trade impact of the internet disruptions,” it said.

There may, however, be political and economic ramifications from this request with questions such as, “who or what ministry is responsible for determining if and when a foreign website should be blocked in China?”.

The US has expressed concern over China’s firewall on previous occasions.

Earlier this year, the US State Department said they would be giving US$19-million to efforts to evade internet controls in China, Iran, and other authoritarian states which block online access to politically sensitive material.



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