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Facing opposition from Chinese citizens and foreign governments, Beijing has postponed a plan to reinforce the “Great Firewall of China.” These efforts, ostensibly to protect against pornography, look more like a new campaign to crack down on dissent. One way to protest them is to demand that China respect its international trade obligations. While such a premise lacks the moral force of past appeals to human rights commitments, it may prove more effective.

The Beijing government has long sought to control citizens’ access to information. That challenge has become more difficult when any individual with a computer (or mobile phone) can access the Internet. Chinese companies have been developed to compete with foreign online search engines and network entities like Yahoo! and Google, both to promote national champions as well as to ensure that Beijing has more say over their policies and practices. The prospect of losing business — a potential market of hundreds of millions of consumers — helps bend foreign companies to the Chinese government’s will.

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