The US and European chambers of commerce in China yesterday welcomed a decision by Beijing to delay an order that new computers sold in the country be equipped with an Internet filtering program.
Young Chinese Web users flooded to a trendy art zone cafe in Beijing yesterday to celebrate the last-minute halt to the order, and to make a stand for freedom of expression.
The filter, called Green Dam Youth Escort, was to have been required from yesterday, but the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said computer makers needed more time so the policy would be delayed, state media reported on Tuesday.
Beijing says the software is designed to shield children within the world’s largest online population from pornography, but trade and rights groups are concerned it is an attempt to tighten already strict controls on Internet use.
“We believe that this is a positive development, which is consistent with international best practices and is good for Chinese consumers, the government and the business community,” the American Chamber of Commerce in China said in a statement. “We recognize and continue to support the use of effective and responsible parental controls to protect children from inappropriate material on the Internet.”
AmCham said it considered the announcement of the delay “a positive step forward” but would continue to monitor the situation.
The European Chamber of Commerce in China also said it was encouraged by the decision.
“This is a pragmatic solution,” it said. “The European Chamber looks forward to continuing to work with the Chinese government to find market-based solutions that enable consumer choice and protect children on the Internet.”
Meanwhile, dressed in matching t-shirts mocking the widely derided Green Dam program, about 200 Beijing residents arrived at an art zone cafe by mid-morning to eat a traditional Chinese breakfast, talk about censorship and plan for a day-long party.
Originally conceived as part of an Internet boycott to mark the launch of the filter, the atmosphere was unexpectedly festive as guests celebrated an unlikely victory against the Chinese state.
“This is a very rare example for the government to suddenly push back an important decision the night before it is due to be rolled out,” said outspoken artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), who had organized the boycott and the party.
“We are very happy because we got what we wanted,” said Liu Yaohua, a 27-year-old artist who had shaved the letter U into his hair the day before.
He lined up beside three friends with their hair shaved into an F, C and K, to spell out an English obscenity.
“We wanted to express our attitude toward Green Dam,” he said.
There was trepidation among some party-goers about attending an event that was a direct, if light-hearted, challenge to a government wary of losing any control over its population.
“I am a little bit nervous, but I felt it was very important that I find the strength to come,” painter Zang Yi said.
Ai said battles over censorship would continue, but the government may have shot itself in the foot with Green Dam, by galvanizing previously apolitical young Web users.
“When young people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s found that the computers, which are so vital to their life, might be affected, it very naturally caused a kind of politicization,” Ai said.