This is big news. Senior policy counsel for Microsoft Fred Tipson told the audience at the Internet Governance Forum that the IT giant would consider moving out of China if things didnt improve there in terms of human rights protection. Microsoft, along with counterparts like Yahoo and Google, has received a lot of flak for ‘colluding’ with the Chinese government in suppressing freedom of speech.
But Microsoft’s announcement about its intention to pull out of China if the country didnt check its repressive behaviour, warrants another question – would that be the right corporate response? I know it appears like the most sensible and possibly even the right thing to do in the current situation rather than get pushed into censoring bloggers. Human rights activits may rejoice at the announcement. But isnt there something to be said in favour of staying in and collectively (along with other corporations in a similar situation) trying to resolve the situation. Agreed a few MNCs (American predominantly) may not change Chinese government operations overnight, but collectively they may be able to cause a stir. They could lobby the government in favour of greater freedom of speech and then only when all doors seem to have closed, try threatening an exit.
We called for a similar approach in Burma in one of our issues last year and it raised quite a few eyebrows. But before you do the same in this case as well, maybe a thought or two on the following would be helpful:
There are 120 million people online in China today as opposed to 80,000 in 1994. Taking Microsoft away from them would be equal to depriving them of the opportunity to blog at all. Given the opportunity, they could do it in a way that isnt too offensive to the ‘authorities’ but is also a thought expressed and relayed worldwide.