China's web firewall 'should be WTO issue'

Monday 17 May 2010 10:23

China's internet "firewall" is a trade barrier and needs to be tackled within the framework of the World Trade Organization, Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission, told reporters in Shanghai today.

Dutch-born Kroes, who is also in charge of Europe's digital agenda, said the firewall was a trade barrier as long as it blocked communication for internet users, preventing the free flow of information.

"It is one of those issues that needs to be tackled within the WTO," said Kroes, who served as European Commissioner for competition until 2009.

Kroes spoke at the China headquarters of video-sharing company Tudou, a rival of Google's internationally popular video-sharing platform YouTube that is blocked in China.

Chinese law requires internet companies to block or remove objectionable content, including pornography and any information deemed sensitive by the ruling Communist Party.

Social media platforms popular overseas, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr, are all blocked in China for fear they will provide a platform to organize or share illicit information.

"I am pushing wherever I can just to get European enterprises a level playing field in China and the other way around. It should be reciprocal," she said, adding that the amount of disruption from the firewall varied for each business.

The US has also explored taking China's internet restrictions to the WTO. In the past, the WTO has upheld China's right to censor printed and audiovisual content.

China's more than 400 million internet users, many of them young and educated, increasingly spend time online for entertainment. Despite censorship, the Internet can be a potent public forum in China, with bloggers and amorphous online groups hectoring the government over pollution and corruption.

Kroes said it was significant that companies such as Tudou, which uploads user videos, show that the younger generation is taking an active role in tackling censorship.

Tudou, which adheres to government censorship regulations, said it deletes 100,000 videos every month for content that involves pornography or politics.

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