Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Google: Barder vs Barder

Owen Barder has been fairly vocal in his support of those attacking Google over their China decision. In a comment to this post, he says:
I used to like Google because they weren’t like all the others, or so I believed.
I maintain my previous position, as, it appears, does Brian Barder:
I don’t agree with these attacks on Google.

The best policy for dealing with authoritarian states which impose censorship and other illiberal restrictions on their citizens is almost always to encourage them to open up by maximising their contacts with the outside world, not by boycotting them and increasing their citizens’ isolation. In the bad old days of the Soviet Union, there were valiant and eventually successful efforts by the west, including the western media, to encourage dialogue with the Soviet leadership and with as many ordinary Soviet people as it was possible to reach, including official visits to the west. All these contacts were subjected to severe restrictions and censorship by the KGB and other organs of repression, but eventually they helped to build a critical mass of public opinion in the USSR that had gained some knowledge and experience, however limited and controlled, of what was happening in the outside world, and this led to increasing questions about why the Soviet people were being prevented from enjoying the same freedoms. No-one, to the best of my knowledge, damned western media and other bodies such as the British Council for fostering these contacts even though it entailed accepting KGB restrictions and censorship.

I see no material difference between that situation and the position of Google in China today. Indeed, the argument for continuing to encourage contacts between Chinese people and the outside world is even stronger than it was during most of the Soviet era in the USSR because the process of opening up China to the outside world is much more advanced, and continuing at a much faster pace, than was the case in the USSR until Gorbachev appeared on the scene at five minutes before the eleventh hour. Moreover the internet, even when subjected to inherently objectionable censorship and restrictions, is a new and potent instrument for fostering contact and for breaking down barriers, and it would be crazy not to make the maximum possible use of it to encourage China to emerge from its antique totalitarian regime.

I shall continue to use Google with a clear conscience.
Well said Brian, couldn't have said it better myself. So I may as well quote the lot, right? My employers are accredited by the British Council, we're actively seeking to improve our business links in China with their assistance, bringing people over here to improve their language skills. The way to remove a regime such as in China is not from without, it's from within. The more people in China are exposed to the rest of the world, the more likely that change will come. I, and Brian it appears, am hoping that process is unstoppable. Regardless of which, it can't happen at all if we simply disengage and boycott.

1 comment:

doctorvee said...

Sorry to be so off-topic, but I can't resist educating you on this wonderful word we have up here, outwith. :D

Incidentally, I think I agree with you on Google China.