- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

A leading human rights group is calling on U.S. technology companies that are pushing a major China trade bill through Congress to intervene on behalf of a Chinese dissident who used the Internet to publicize human rights abuses.

Huang Qi, who lives in China's Sichuan province, had operated an Internet site that publicized human rights abuses, but he and his wife were arrested June 3, according to Human Rights Watch, a U.S. group active in China. Mr. Huang's wife was released, but he remains in custody.

"Internet companies are helping to provide Chinese people with an important new means of communication, enhancing their access to the free flow of information, and this is to be welcomed," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch. "But they should not turn a blind eye to users who are being censored, harassed and arrested."

Chinese authorities had tolerated the site, which began as an electronic bulletin board, until users began posting increasingly critical statements of the government during the run-up to June 4, the 11th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Rhett Dawson, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, a group of leading high-tech companies including Cisco Systems and Microsoft, said he was unaware of Mr. Huang's case.

But he said U.S. companies tend to avoid public pressure on the Chinese government.

"My guess is that doing something privately would be much more constructive," Mr. Dawson said. "Quiet efforts go on, but companies tend to stay away from issues related to [Chinese] governance."

Sterling, Va.-based America Online declined to comment on the case, as did the Business Software Alliance, which represents many companies that write software for the Internet.

But George Vradenburg, AOL's senior vice president for global and strategic policy, has argued that Internet companies' involvement in China has a liberating effect. But he also sought to dampen expectations that U.S. companies can crusade for human rights while doing business.

"American businesses are not by their nature human rights advocates," Mr. Vradenburg said at a recent forum at the Economic Strategy Institute. "They are profit-making enterprises."

Mr. Jendrzejczyk is challenging U.S. companies to live up to the standards they set for themselves in the bitter debate over whether the House should approve a historic market-opening trade agreement with China. The House backed the accord 237-197, and the Senate, where the issue is less controversial, is expected to follow suit in mid-July.

Major business groups argued with considerable success before the House vote that U.S. trade and investment with China ultimately would improve the Asian giant's dismal human rights record by planting the seeds of systemic change. But they shied away from outright promises that commercial engagement would persuade Chinese authorities to permit more political dissent.

"They can back up their rhetorical commitment with concrete action here," Mr. Jendrzejczyk said.

Human Rights Watch is approaching major U.S. corporations and industry groups associated with the Internet, though Mr. Jendrzejczyk declined to specify which ones.

He stressed that private pressure has the potential to be even more effective than public statements, provided the companies lodge complaints with Chinese officials at a high level and make clear that they are not simply making pro-forma statements.

Nicholas Lardy, a scholar of China at the Brookings Institution, said it is unrealistic to expect U.S. corporations to criticize the Chinese government publicly, something that could come at a significant commercial cost, though private protests are possible.

"No company will do that in the headlines," Mr. Lardy said.

Richard Long, a Chinese dissident who runs an Internet site in the United States dedicated to publicizing human rights abuses, said China's arrest of Mr. Huang was "typical" of its treatment of Web site operators. Use of the Internet for nonpolitical causes goes unpunished, but those who veer off into criticism of the regime get punished.

Mr. Long pointed out that Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright visited an Internet cafe in Beijing where she was able to view Western media. But the Chinese government still does its best to block sites with objectionable content.

"That was a complete show," he said.

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