EU calls on trade body to tackle China’s firewall
China’s internet “firewall” is a trade barrier that needs to be tackled within the framework of the World Trade Organisation, according to Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission.
Kroes, who is responsible for Europe’s digital agenda, says the firewall is a trade barrier because it blocks communication for internet users, preventing the free flow of information and trade.
“It is one of those issues that needs to be tackled within the WTO,” she said. China’s law requires that internet companies block or remove content deemed to be objectionable, including pornography and any information considered sensitive by the ruling Communist Party.
Many foreign internet companies, particularly social-media platforms, are blocked in China for fear they will provide a platform for dissidents to organise into groups 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,” Kroes said.
The US has also explored taking China’s internet restrictions to the WTO, but the organisation has previously upheld China’s right to censor printed and audiovisual material.
China’s more than 400 million internet users increasingly spend time online and, despite censorship, the internet can be a potent public forum in China, with bloggers and amorphous online groups lobbying the Government over pollution and corruption.