Are you sure?

US cannot take Google row to WTO

The United States would not have any standing to bring a case against Chinese Internet restrictions to the World Trade Organisation, a Chinese adviser on WTO strategy said in an opinion piece.

US trade officials had asked for more information on whether they could pursue a case at the WTO, after Google threatened to shut its China operations following a hacker attack in late 2009. Google said it would work with Chinese authorities to find a way to offer an unfiltered search engine in China.

WTO rules state that countries have the right to censor Internet content, Zheng Zhihai, deputy director and general secretary of the China Society of World Trade Organisation Studies, wrote in a piece published on the China Daily's website on Tuesday.

“If someone intends to challenge China's right to govern its Internet by resorting to WTO rules, they are apparently misguided and bound to fail,” wrote Zheng, whose organization reports to China's Ministry of Commerce.

He added that China agreed in its accession to the WTO to provide national treatment to online information processors and data search firms if they operated through a joint venture in China in which they owned no more than 50%, something Google has done.

The WTO has been very reluctant to challenge countries' rights to censor content of any type. It ruled last year that China's import monopolies on books, films and other entertainment materials violated market access rules, but upheld its right to censor specific materials. The Bush administration considered, but did not pursue, a case that China's firewall poses a barrier to entry.

Before the hacking attack and Google's threat to withdraw, Chinese authorities had appeared to specifically target Google with accusations pornography was easily available through its search engine, and ordered it to change the way it processed search requests.

However, Chinese firms, including Google's top rival Baidu, also have to comply with Chinese censorship rules, and often do so preemptively.

Chinese officials have been cagey on whether they are in talks with Google.

The Minister of Industry and Information Technology, Li Yizhong, said on Friday his ministry is talking with Google, but over the weekend his vice minister, Miao Wei, said it wasn't.

Google declined to comment on either official's comments. (Reuters)