Notorious controls on Internet use in China are now being labeled by the United States as barriers to trade.
A report on barriers to digital trade released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative stated that as digital trade expands across the globe, China’s Internet restrictions are a “significant burden” to businesses both in China and abroad. It also states that although China’s Internet filters have been impeding Internet-dependent businesses for more than a decade, “outright blocking of websites appears to have worsened over the past year.”
The statement, however, gave no indication as to whether the United States plans to take action on this issue on which Washington and Beijing have been at odds – not only for economic reasons, but for questions of human rights.
Nearly 80 percent of Chinese companies that responded to a survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said they were “negatively impacted” by the controls. Only 5 percent said they were not impacted in any way.
“Policies aimed at attracting foreign investment will not change, nor will policies to protect their lawful rights and interest and to create a good business environment,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters at a Friday briefing.
He said that China hopes “all countries can respect another nation’s choice of the route for Internet development, Internet management and Internet public policy, as well as its right to participate in regulating the international Internet.”
The Great Firewall of China, as it’s called, has resulted in almost 25 percent of all sites being blocked as of early April, according to data from the anti-censorship group GreatFire.org. That marks a significant increase from 14 percent when President Xi Jinping took office. Customer interaction, conversations with foreign partners, and even applications to foreign universities are also hindered by the online censorship, according to one technology company official in China.
Much of the Internet blocking appears to be arbitrary, including many search engines, social media sites, and even a U.S. home improvement website.