Tea Leaf Nation

Everything I Wish I’d Told John Kerry

Everything I Wish I’d Told John Kerry

On Feb. 15, I had the honor of sitting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and several notable Chinese bloggers to discuss Internet freedom in China. During our meeting in Beijing, I found  Kerry and his staff very warm, open, and willing to listen carefully to the voices of the Chinese citizenry. I left the get-together feeling excited that they had let us speak and ask questions so freely.

But our time, of course, was limited. Although I had the opportunity to ask Kerry to help tear down the so-called Great Firewall of censorship — which makes some major Western sites like Facebook and the New York Times largely inaccessible to Chinese Web users — I wasn’t able to say everything on my mind. Here is what else I’d tell Kerry and his staff. I hope they’re still listening:

Since 1949, Chinese dictators have robbed their people of their freedom, forcing the country’s citizens to live in fear. Now, Chinese authorities are censoring and deleting some online speech, landing some online commenters in prison for speech crimes. China’s people are still unable to freely access the World Wide Web. The existence of China’s Great Firewall is an embarrassment not just to China but to the human race, and an open challenge to public justice and the public consciousness.

For many years, Chinese who aspire for freedom have spilled their blood and sweat fighting for it. Chinese people will continue to try to push down every wall erected by their dictatorial government, but if the United States could help in the effort to tear down China’s notorious Great Firewall, it would help China realize Internet freedom sooner.

At present, some U.S. companies are helping Chinese authorities restrict Internet freedom, partly by blocking Twitter, Facebook, and other websites in China. There’s no doubt that this conduct is a violation of our human rights. I hope that U.S. policymakers can investigate this matter, and if the facts warrant, take necessary measures to punish the companies responsible. I also call on U.S. authorities to deny visas to everyone involved in building and maintaining this wall. That includes Fang Binxing, who has designed many parts of the Great Firewall and whom many refer to as its "father." 

Those Chinese currently imprisoned for speech crimes require our collective, sustained attention. I call on the U.S. government to use the power of diplomacy and public opinion to request China immediately free Xu Zhiyong, Liu Xiaobo, and other prisoners of conscience jailed for political reasons, and to refrain from any conduct that restricts their freedom. 

Finally, I hope that the U.S. government can provide Chinese citizens with technology to allow them to scale the Great Firewall and access the worldwide Internet, not just the Chinese intranet. This will allow Chinese to understand the world around them more clearly, and it will encourage their quest for freedom. In the 21st century, free and open access to the Internet is one of the most important freedoms afforded to the human race. 1.3 billion Chinese people should not be an exception.

Translated by David Wertime