by Robert Wright
Good news. China has dropped plans to require “anti-pornography” (read “anti-political-freedom”) software on personal computers. The bad news is that these filters will still be required in internet cafes, where many lower income Chinese get their net access. (Kind of inverts the meaning of “dictatorship of the proletariat”.) Still, given the rate at which the cost of computers is dropping and China’s economy is growing, computer ownership will no doubt expand, so keeping homes free of authoritarian software will have trickle-down benefits.
Among the pressures that got the government to abandon this plan was an American threat to use international trade law against it. This is the second time this week that trade law has intersected with information flow in China. Yesterday the WTO ruled that Chinese restrictions on the import of American books, movies, and music are illegal. This ruling wasn’t so much about freedom of expression; the main question was whether Chinese would buy bootlegged copies of Hollywood movies or official copies. Still, I’m wondering: If America complained that Saudi Arabia, a WTO member, was banning the import of Brokeback Mountain, could the WTO rule against Saudi Arabia? If there are any trade lawyers out there with the answer, please email us.