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Article

24 Feb 2016

Author:
Michael Posner, NYU Stern School of Business, on CNBC (USA)

China: Govt. crackdown on freedom of expression & rule of law affects both CEOs & human rights lawyers

"China's disappearing billionaires - an alarming trend", 1 Feb 2016

What is happening to these Chinese business leaders, and what lessons do their cases hold for Western companies operating in China?  First, most of these cases seem linked to an official crackdown on corruption...To his credit, President Xi Jinping has recognized this, and made the fight against corruption a priority. What's troubling is the arbitrary and extralegal way this government is going about investigating these cases...Last year, Chinese authorities arrested more than 200 lawyers, several of whom are still being detained. Many of these lawyers were involved in cases linked to human rights. The charges against these legal advocates often appear arbitrary and contrived...[B]oth the effort to fight corruption and to build a stable rule of law depend on transparency and free expression, which are still seriously restricted by the Chinese government. Chinese leaders still seem to believe, for example, that they can control the Internet by maintaining a strict firewall and massive surveillance to stifle dissenting political or social voices. And they seem to be doubling down on this mistaken formula, proposing a range of new restrictions on free speech and new controls on Internet providers...It is simply not possible to build a commercial Internet while shutting down other forms of expression using the same technologies...Western companies doing business in China need both to understand the magnitude of these challenges and to develop business models and practices that reinforce and support constructive changes.  These could include individual or collective efforts to support needed environmental and labor reforms, more independent legal institutions, and greater engagement with Chinese civil society and professional associations, rather than passively enabling a system in need of fundamental reform.