US accuses Beijing of blocking access to US firms’ websites

19 October 2011 20:17  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US on Wednesday alleged that China is blocking access to US companies’ Internet websites, creating commercial barriers that damage American commerce and deny export opportunities.

The allegations of Chinese website blocking or sabotage are the latest in a growing string of charges by the White House and members of Congress that the Beijing government is cheating on trade policy, manipulating its currency and waging what a House leader termed “pervasive and intolerable economic espionage” against the US.

Most recently, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Tuesday that a Chinese national had confessed to stealing technology and trade secrets from US chemicals firms over a seven-year period on behalf of the Beijing government.

The US Trade Representative (USTR) formally demanded explanations from Beijing about China’s policies and procedures on blocking access to foreign companies’ websites.

Ambassador Ron Kirk, who heads the White House office of US Trade Representative, said that the US was exercising its rights under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to demand explanations from Beijing about those practices.

He said that US businesses have complained to his office about “adverse business impacts from periodic disruptions to the availability of their websites in China”.

Kirk said that websites of US product and service providers “are sometimes inaccessible in China, which can prevent those companies from marketing products and services to the Chinese market”.

In its formal inquiry to Beijing, the USTR asks some two dozen questions about which Chinese ministries are responsible for blocking access to websites and what criteria justify such actions.

The USTR noted that in 2000 Beijing’s state council identified nine categories of Internet content that service providers in China may not disseminate, and that two additional categories of banned information were added in 2005. The US said that those 11 categories are broadly defined and asked Beijing to clarify them.

Beijing also requires that domestic Internet service providers (ISPs) take appropriate steps “to prevent the transmission of all types of illegal information”, Kirk said.

The US wants China to explain what constitutes “illegal information” and by what authority ISPs block the transmission of information.

The USTR declined to say whether it might file a formal complaint against China in this matter with the WTO, but the trade representative appeared to keep that option open.

USTR spokeswoman Carol Guthrie said that for now the US is “seeking information, which we hope to share with interested companies to help avoid blockages of US suppliers’ websites going forward”.

The US also might build an international coalition to confront China on its Internet policies, the USTR indicated.

“If other countries express interest in engaging on this issue, we might seek a means to include them in follow-up discussions,” Guthrie said.

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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