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Web of complicity

Yahoo, the American internet giant, stands accused of helping Beijing to send a dissident journalist to prison for 10 years. The company is said to have supplied the authorities with computer records proving that Shi Tao had posted on the internet an internal government document banning the Chinese media from commenting on last year's 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

It is easy to understand why Yahoo should have wished to co-operate with the Chinese government. The company recently invested some £550 million in the Chinese internet sector. It had its shareholders to consider, as well as its undertakings to abide by Chinese law.

Why, the company may have asked itself, should Yahoo have felt any duty of confidentiality to an individual customer who was knowingly breaking the law of the land - no matter how offensive that law may appear to Western eyes. From a strictly legalistic point of view, Yahoo may have felt that it had no more duty to protect Mr Shi than to shield a pedlar of child pornography from the consequences of publishing his filth on the internet in Britain.

But the affair still leaves a foul taste in the mouth. The Chinese government is one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth, clinging to power by the ruthless suppression of any sort of dissent. Western companies - and Yahoo is by no means alone in this - have shown themselves much too ready to ingratiate themselves with this odious regime, in the hope of cashing in on the vast Chinese market.

They may tell themselves, to assuage their consciences, that the best way of opening China up to liberal Western influence is through trade. But that liberal influence will be felt only if Western companies - and Western politicians, too - have the courage to assert their principles.

There is something indecent about the sight of Yahoo, sucking up to the Chinese government - and Tony Blair, larking about with a football in Beijing to please his hosts - while Mr Shi and so many brave men like him suffer horribly for trying to tell the world the truth about their country.

Date posted: September 8, 2005 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 2380