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Lugar: U.S. failing to combat Internet censorship by China

On the same day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will give a major speech on protecting freedom of information, especially in cyberspace, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report criticizing the U.S. government for failing to confront the Chinese government’s Internet censorship policies. "In the same way that our trade ...

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

On the same day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will give a major speech on protecting freedom of information, especially in cyberspace, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report criticizing the U.S. government for failing to confront the Chinese government's Internet censorship policies.

"In the same way that our trade with China is out of balance, it is clear to even the casual observer that when it comes to interacting directly with the other nation's public we are in another lop-sided contest," Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) wrote in the new report (PDF). "China has a vigorous public diplomacy program, based on a portrayal of an ancient, benign China that is, perhaps, out of touch with modern realities. Nonetheless, we are being overtaken in this area of foreign policy by China, which is able to take advantage of America's open system to spread its message in many different ways, while using its fundamentally closed system to stymie U.S. efforts."

Not only is Beijing using its tight control over the Internet to shield the population from news and information related to government behavior, it is now exporting its censorship technologies to other repressive countries, including Iran, Cuba, and Belarus, Lugar's report stated. He called on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which administers U.S. public diplomacy programs, to take the lead in combating China's worldwide Internet censorship effort.

On the same day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will give a major speech on protecting freedom of information, especially in cyberspace, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report criticizing the U.S. government for failing to confront the Chinese government’s Internet censorship policies.

"In the same way that our trade with China is out of balance, it is clear to even the casual observer that when it comes to interacting directly with the other nation’s public we are in another lop-sided contest," Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) wrote in the new report (PDF). "China has a vigorous public diplomacy program, based on a portrayal of an ancient, benign China that is, perhaps, out of touch with modern realities. Nonetheless, we are being overtaken in this area of foreign policy by China, which is able to take advantage of America’s open system to spread its message in many different ways, while using its fundamentally closed system to stymie U.S. efforts."

Not only is Beijing using its tight control over the Internet to shield the population from news and information related to government behavior, it is now exporting its censorship technologies to other repressive countries, including Iran, Cuba, and Belarus, Lugar’s report stated. He called on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which administers U.S. public diplomacy programs, to take the lead in combating China’s worldwide Internet censorship effort.

Though Chinese media has free reign in the United States, BBG organizations such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia are regularly blocked in China, forcing the stations to broadcast on short wave radio from long distances, Lugar’s report said. Meanwhile, the State Department has not spent about $30 million of the $50 million appropriated to them since 2008 by Congress to fight these efforts.

Lugar wrote to Clinton this month to ask her to take $8 million of those funds and give them directly to the BBG, in addition to the $1.5 million State transfered to BBG for this effort last October.

New BBG chairman Walter Isaacson told an audience last October that the U.S. government needed to give the BBG more money to compete with other nationally owned media organizations, including those run by the Chinese government.

"We can’t allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies," he said. "You’ve got Russia Today, Iran’s Press TV, Venezuela’s TeleSUR, and of course, China is launching an international broadcasting 24-hour news channel with correspondents around the world [and has] reportedly set aside six to ten billion [dollars] — we’ve to go to Capitol Hill with that number — to expand their overseas media operations."

In her speech to be delivered on Tuesday, Clinton is poised to say that the U.S. government is committed to upholding the rule of law, civil liberties, and human rights in cyberspace, according to advance excerpts of her remarks obtained by The Cable.

"The United States will continue to promote an Internet where people’s rights are protected and that is open to innovation, is interoperable all over the world, secure enough to hold people’s trust, and reliable enough to support their work," Clinton will say. "There is no silver bullet in the struggle against Internet repression. There’s no "app" for that. And accordingly, we are taking a comprehensive and innovative approach — one that matches our diplomacy with technology, secure distribution networks for tools, and direct support for those on the front lines."

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the BBG had not spent $30 million out of $50 million allocated to fight internet censorship. The State Department, not the BBG, was the recipient of those funds.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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