01:13 PM

Microsoft and Yahoo call on US government to open up China and other countries

Here is a statement from Microsoft and Yahoo. It says that the US government should engage with their counterparts in China and other countries that restrict internet access.

[There's a slight touch of what the British call "gun boat diplomacy" in their statement--something which the Chinese government tends to notice, as it is very much aware of its long history and its past interactions with western nations.]

The statement said that there are companies inside "most markets who would see great advantage in our withdrawal from their countries." And that's why they won't withdraw their services from China.

They also said that they don't have the leverage to foster change in other countries (even though their revenues eclipse those of some countries.

Interestingly, Google thinks otherwise. In November GOOG hired Elliot Schrage as VP of Global Communications. Mr Schrage has a good deal of experience in dealing with foreign governments. A smart move.

Here is the Microsoft-Yahoo joint statement:

Congressional Human Rights Caucus

February 1, 2006

Statement of Microsoft Corporation and Yahoo! Inc.

As leading global providers of Internet-based services, we are deeply concerned about recent developments in China that have prompted this meeting of the Caucus. We are actively exploring whether there are potential approaches to guide the practices of our industry on these matters, not only in China, but also in other countries where Internet content is treated more restrictively than in the United States.

As these efforts continue, we hope to benefit from the views of members of this Caucus and other Members of Congress, other companies in our industry, and major non-governmental organizations, as well as key departments of the Executive Branch and the Chinese government itself.

While we believe that companies have a responsibility to identify appropriate practices in each market in which they do business, we think there is a vital role for government-to-government discussion of the larger issues involved.

We urge the United States government to take a leadership role in this regard and have initiated a dialogue with relevant U.S. officials to encourage such government-to-government engagement.

We want to assure members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and the public at large, that we do not consider the Internet situation in China to be one of “business-as usual”. Beyond commercial considerations, we believe that our services have promoted personal expression and enabled far wider access to independent sources of information for hundreds of millions of individuals in China and elsewhere in the world.

While we will actively work to encourage governments around the world to embrace policies on Internet content that foster the freer exchange of ideas and promote maximum access to information, we also recognize that, acting alone, our leverage and ability to influence government policies in various countries is severely limited. Indeed, there are undoubtedly officials and domestic competitors in most markets who would see great advantage in our withdrawal from their countries.

We think such a decision would not be in the best interests of the people we serve there. The presence of multiple Internet information providers, particularly from companies with the most comprehensive search capabilities and the richest mixture of content and services, has been a powerful force for openness and reform in all countries, including China.

We want to continue to make those services available, while working with governments to find better ways of protecting the interests of all users of our services.