January 27,2022

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Wyden and Crapo: U.S. Must Use Trade Tools To Fight Back Against Censorship and Digital Authoritarianism by China, Russia and Other Foreign Nations

Bipartisan Senate Finance Committee Leaders Applaud New Report by U.S. International Trade Commission on Censorship as a Barrier to Trade

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, today called for the United States to use its trade tools to fight back against censorship and digital authoritarianism in China, Russia and other countries, in response to a new report by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) that details the spread of anti-competitive and repressive tactics that hurt internet users in the United States and abroad.

The ITC report lays out how China’s government uses a web of practices to block free speech and free expression, both in China and abroad, including data localization; direct censorship of the press, entertainment and social media; vague laws that encourage self-censorship; VPN blocking; and internet shutdowns. As a result of these repressive tactics, Chinese technology companies face little to no competition from American tech firms, as both major companies, mid-tier competitors and startups are unable to operate there. As part of the ITC’s investigation, human rights groups testified to the impact of these practices on free speech, free expression, access to information, privacy, security and other digital rights at home and abroad.

“It is no accident that the same laws that crush free speech in China also prevent American media and technology firms from competing fairly in the most populous country on earth,”  Wyden said. “The Chinese regime builds its Great Firewall higher every year, suppressing political dissent, protecting the ruling party, and enabling a human rights disaster. And this repressive model is spreading. If the United States wants to compete in the economy of the future and ensure a free and open internet for people around the world, our government needs to get serious about fighting back against authoritarian censorship.”

“Free trade and freedom go hand in hand—which is why Americans succeed so well in the global marketplace,” Crapo said. “American movies, music, literature, press outlets, and digital platforms are global icons because of the right to free expression guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the laws enforcing it. Repressive governments censor us because they know our trade brings our values. U.S. policy must transition to a more active role in pushing back against Chinese censorship and prevent its occurrence in other markets, wherever they may be.”

The ITC report also details censorship practices in India, Indonesia, Turkey, and Vietnam. A second report on censorship is expected in July 2022 and will provide further information on the impact of censorship regimes on U.S. businesses and U.S. persons. 

Wyden and Crapo have long worked on a bipartisan basis to target predatory trade policies, including digital authoritarianism in China and elsewhere. In May 2021, the Senate adopted a sweeping Crapo-Wyden trade amendment to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 91-4. The amendment would help level the playing field for American workers, farmers, fishers and families by taking aim at China’s worst practices, including censorship, forced labor, theft of intellectual property and unethical seafood production.

The full U.S. ITC report is available here