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Hu's Visit to U.S. May Help Him Control Net
Paul Lin
4/21/2006

Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to visit the U.S. next month, but there is some confusion as to the actual details of his itinerary. Some reports have him arriving in Seattle on April 22 and meeting US President George W. Bush in Washington two days later; others have him arriving on April 20 and meeting Bush on April 22. This in itself is not unusual. A degree of secrecy is required to ensure Hu doesn't run into any Falun Gong protests. There is, however, another report which I have every reason to believe is true: that Hu will be received by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates at his luxurious Lake Washington residence during the Seattle leg of his trip.

A meeting between Hu and Gates is, one would think, quite important, and certainly not before time. They are both powerful men who share mutual interests.

At first glance it might seem that Hu, national leader of China, has little in common with Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp. This, however, is not the case, for Hu's daughter got married in 2003 to Daniel Mao, Internet tycoon and former chief executive officer of Sina Corp. If Gates is one of the fathers of the Internet in the US, then Hu is the father-in-law of the Internet in China; and just as Gates is the wealthiest man in the U.S. (and the world), Mao is ranked 11th in China.

More important, however, is Hu's special interest in the Internet. Ever since he came to power, he has sought to strengthen state control of the Web, arresting anyone with views that conflict with his own, and throwing the book at them. The US State Department's 2005 Country Reports of Human Rights Practices is critical of the Chinese government, saying that it seeks to censor print, broadcast and electronic media, as well as Internet content.

The worrying thing is that the four major Internet companies in the US -- namely Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and Cisco -- are all aiders and abetters in China's efforts, erecting between them the world's most effective Internet supervision architecture.

Despite admonitions expressed during a U.S. congressional hearing recently, I foresee these Internet giants continuing to collude with the Chinese dictators for financial reasons. Together, they will ensnare the Chinese populace in their Web of censorship, and cast their "net" over freedom and democracy in China. There will be no discussion of how to improve human rights in China when Gates meets Hu. The only talk will be about how the two men can further their own interests.

Gates is known, not only in the U.S. but the world over, for his donations to good causes. Why, then, is he not promoting improvements in human rights in China, the world's largest dictatorship? This would serve to prove that his donations are more than a mere public relations exercise. He should be trying to encourage Internet freedom in China, rather than undermining his reputation through his actions.

Google made its move on China last year, bagging several Microsoft employees, including Lee Kai-fu, former head of Microsoft Research China. This provoked Microsoft into taking Google to court. During the hearings, Lee revealed how Gates had sounded off about the Chinese government in particularly colorful language. Gates seems to spend most of his time in court for one reason or the other, but this was the first time his anti-Chinese streak came to light.

If these companies continue to pander to the Chinese government like this, they will not only be shooting themselves in the foot, they will also allow the US to get caught up in China's net, a situation that could eventually threaten that country's national security.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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