TCS Daily

Can Chinese communism survive the Internet?

By James Freeman - February 23, 2000 12:00 AM

If the Chinese people have free access to the tools of the information economy, history says that the communist regime can't last. So I'm rooting for a few hundred million Chinese to get wired.

How to deal with China has become a hot topic in the Presidential campaign. Is the communist regime a friend, as Mr. Clinton believes, a competitor, as George W. Bush sees it, or an outright adversary? Should we trade with China and hope to bring with us the liberating force of capitalism? Or should we cut them off and try to use economic pressure to force needed changes?

The Clinton Administration has to this point followed a bizarre policy in which high-tech products are sold to the Chinese government and military, but not to Chinese consumers. Specifically, the US approved the sale of missile technology that helped the Chinese military, while preventing the export of encryption software that would have allowed Chinese dissidents to communicate in secret.

Recently, the Clinton Administration announced the end of export controls on encryption software. This will be good news for Chinese dissidents, if the policy lives up to the press release.

Let's trade with China, but let's trade based on the best interests of American producers and Chinese consumers, not the corrupt dictators in Beijing. The people who rule China were never elected, so they don't speak for Chinese consumers. Let's allow Chinese consumers to speak for themselves with free choices in the marketplace. The result will be a boom in US exports and maybe even a democratic China.

Specifically, the US should demand unrestricted entry into the Chinese market for US Internet service providers, communications and networking firms, software companies and computer makers.

Typically, US companies that want to play in China have to invest in a joint venture with the government or a front company controlled by the communists. Then it's a race to see whether the Americans can build asset value faster than the communists can steal it. Similarly, capricious bureaucrats or ideologues in charge of regulating the budding Chinese economy can make it nearly impossible for US firms to operate.

Let's demand free, unregulated entry for our high-tech companies. No limits on marketing. No limits on foreign investment. No regulatory approvals needed to provide telecom services. No government intervention in the technology marketplace, and no need to give the government a piece of new commercial ventures. According to China Daily, Beijing officials are talking about regulatory reform. We want action. The vague language in the Administration's recent trade deal with China moves us in the right direction. Congress should take it further when it writes the Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) bill for China this spring.

Our ultimate goal should be an Internet-connected PC or portable wireless device in the hands of every Chinese citizen. Information is power and we want to bring that power to the average person in China. So if the Chinese want free trade, we welcome it. But let's trade with the people of China, not with the despots who rule them.

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