Moral Relativism [8:37 am]
For ratting out Shi, Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang has been dragged before Congress, called a “moral pygmy” and forced to issue an apology. In contrast, Cisco and Chief Executive John Chambers have received little public scrutiny for providing China’s cadres of Comrade Orwells with the Internet surveillance technology they need to cleanse the Net of impure democratic thoughts.
Cisco is hardly alone in helping China keep the jackboot to the neck of its people. Skype, an EBay Inc. subsidiary, helps the Chinese government monitor and censor text messaging. Microsoft Corp. likewise is a willing conscript in China’s Internet policing army, as Bill Gates’ minions regularly cleanse the Chinese blogosphere. Google Inc.’s brainiacs, meanwhile, have built a special Chinese version of their powerful search engine to filter out things as diverse as the BBC, freeing Tibet and that four-letter word in China — democracy.
[...] The broader problem is that American business executives have little training in how to deal with ethics in a corrupt and totalitarian global business environment — blame U.S. business schools for that. As a result, moral horizons tend to be short, and executives who find themselves in the heat of a battle don’t know where to draw the line, which is what happened to Yahoo.
[...] For all these reasons, it is ultimately shortsighted to single out Yahoo for the kind of behavior now common to many big U.S. companies operating in China. That’s why we need to have a much bigger discussion about how to engage economically and politically with China. It’s also why the proposed Global Online Freedom Act, which would make it unlawful for U.S. companies to filter Internet search results or turn over user information, should not be viewed as a magic bullet but rather as the start of that debate.