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International

The Google escalation and open source

A government-driven cut-off of online ties, should it come, would make it very hard to do open source business, since it would raise costs and limit collaboration. In that way open source is the "peace dividend" both sides want to protect.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Google's decision to go public on China's efforts to control its own Internet, and people, by every means necessary may become Hillary Clinton's Cuban missile crisis.

That's because missiles don't win wars anymore. Wars are fought economically. They can be just as destructive as before, but in the Internet age they will be based on Internet means.

The BBC is calling this a battle of the blogs, many pundits are yawning loudly, but this is as serious as a heart attack. The world economy hinges on the U.S.-China relationship. And that relationship rides on the Internet.

The real question is whether the Internet will be an international network or a collection of national networks. This has been obscured by two key realities. China's control of its Internet is not nearly as complete as it appears, and western support for a global network that can bypass national laws is not as great as it appears, either.

The present incident was born of this yin and yang.

China still sees free thought as a threat to its security. Google knows better. It is laying down this marker from a position of relative strength -- the present Administration is far more supportive of Internet freedom (and open source) than its predecessor.

Its timing is also good. Critics like to say that China owns us. But when you hold enough of a bank's debt you own the bank. It's this debt that is the weapon of mass destruction in the present crisis. And it's in our hands, not theirs.

Open source depends on these networks remaining open. A government-driven cut-off of online ties, should it come, would make it very hard to do open source business, since it would raise costs and limit collaboration. In that way open source is the "peace dividend" both sides want to protect.

China also needs the competition Google provides. Without it sites like Baidu will become lazy. Despite its huge market it could easily fall behind on features and functions, ironically making it vulnerable to cyber attack.

No one wants cyber-war, but there are differences in the American and Chinese approach to the Internet, and to economic questions generally, that need to be managed. Whether weiji (above) truly means both danger and opportunity, this crisis is indeed both.

The question now is whether the Administration will seize it or just try to muddle through.

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