Richard Samuelson: Why China Views Google as a Tool of the U.S. Government

[Richard Samuelson is the 2009–2010 Garwood Visiting Fellow at Princeton University’s James Madison Program, and an Assistant Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino.]

The clash between China and Google is the first shot in what could be a long war. Why should this be the case when, as Fareed Zakaria notes, the U.S. and China “have powerful reasons to cooperate with one another”?

Those reasons, however powerful, might not be enough. The trouble is that what Americans think of as basic liberty, something that’s as necessary to the good life as the air we breathe, China regards as imperialism....

In America, we take “civil society” — a sphere of activity where free and equal citizens may do and say what they please — for granted. Since that is our experience, we tend to think that it’s simply how the world is supposed to be. Yet individual liberty, personal privacy, and the rights to assemble, to lobby, and to exchange thoughts and beliefs are particular ideas, even if they are universal in scope. To provide just one example: In China, there are five officially recognized religions. Members of other religious groups are not free to practice openly....

China understands America very differently than we do. To them, the U.S. private sector and the U.S. government comprise one all-encompassing nation. Hence the “campaign for the uncensored free flow of information” is a “U.S. campaign,” and they see Google as a tool of the U.S. government. To them, the U.S., through Google, is engaged in “Internet warfare.” To allow information to flow freely, without monitoring by the government, is to knuckle under to Western imperialism. In short, China does not acknowledge the distinction between state and society that is fundamental in America....

We face, in short, a clash of regimes. Values and institutions that are fundamental in and essential to the United States, and that make the U.S. what it is, are incompatible with values and institutions that are fundamental in and essential to China, and that make it what it is....

As China becomes an ever more important player in world affairs, the clash between the liberal regimes of the West and China will continue. The conflict will not end until either the U.S. or China changes fundamentally. Ultimately, the very existence of the Chinese regime, as it is currently constituted and as it understands itself, is irreconcilable with the idea of a truly private sector, one with freedoms of expression and religion. As the regime sees it, China cannot accept the free flow of ideas, information, and goods and still be China.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Louis Godena - 2/27/2010

I agree. This article would have been much closer to the mark if it had emphasized the similarities of the two countries. This is especially true as regards so-called "civil society," which exists in China to more or less the same extent as it does in the U.S. Vital civil sectors are closely tied to the ruling elite of both Beijing and Washington. Neither is going to brook any serious opposition to its system of rule. China and Washington each view religion as a political problem. The promotion of religious superstion serves the ruling elite in Washington, as it preaches obedience to capital and opposes for the most part state intervention to ensure access to health care and jobs. China has correctly seen extraordinary religious movements as threats to socialism, being as they are largely financed by outside forces hostile to the ruling Party. More importantly, both regimes are more than willing to use private capital to achieve its ends. One difference, I suppose, is that the Chinese seem to know how to manage an economy, and we, increasingly, seem at a loss to do anything right.

Bajie Zhu - 2/23/2010

Google expressly works with the NSA, by leaving open backdoors in the code.

That was clearly NOT the first time that American corporate work with the government security apparatus, often surreptitiously. MAGIC LANTERN was a notorious one hosted by the FBI. Today, there is INFRAGARD, to which almost ALL of the American Fortune 100 "voluntarily" participate (one would have to wonder what happens to those who DO NOT "volunteer") - and expose all corporate data, including the private data of individuals such as consumers, to free government access without any warrants.

In return, the U.S. govt. also uses internationally spied info to promote American business interest: James Woolsey, who headed the CIA from 1993-1995, freely admitted that the U.S. collects info on European firms. The U.S. used ECHELON to help Boeing beat Airbus in a major plane deal with Saudi Arabia. In 1994, intelligence reports were forwarded to Raytheon regarding a radar system that Brazil was to buy. In 1993, President Clinton ordered the CIA to conduct surveillance on Japanese car makers designing zero-emission cars; this info was forwarded to the Big Three.

When SKYPE (used to be ran solely out of Europe) refused to turn over the end-to-end encryption keys to the NSA, Ebay was asked to step in and bought the service (even though it is hard to understand the synergy, since there is none). The rest was history.

How come little of this was reported on HNN?

History News Network