Media and Advertising

Boycotting Yahoo! will not help freedom of expression in China

In the last year, several bloggers and free speech advocates have been making a fuss about American corporations such as Cisco and Microsoft that are accused of complicity in human rights violations in China, because their products have aided the Chinese government in monitoring and censoring the Internet.

Yahoo! is the latest American company to be accused of evil-doing, after they provided email records of journalist Shi Tao to the cops, who promptly arrested Shi.

Not a nice story. But the the self-righteous noises coming from Western comentators about this issue are not very nice either.

The critics, mostly American, are pursuing their own domestic anti-corporate agenda; their complaints are of no relevance to anyone living in China.

If Yahoo! and the others packed their bags and left this country, freedom of expression would take a step backwards. By their investments in the Chinese Internet, foreign Internet companies have dramatically advanced freedom of expression for a quarter of the people on the planet.

Microsoft, Yahoo!, Cisco, Google etc. are forced into compromises when operating in China, but for every Shi Tao in jail, there are millions of people who have unprecedented access to information from around China and the outside world, thanks in part to those corporations.

This is why you almost never hear complaints about these companies from Chinese people, especially those who remember the pre-Internet age, when the average citizen could not even get hold of a copy of Time magazine.

To quote Li Ao:

You must not believe the Westerners' high-minded talk.

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