At the Huffington Post, Michael Santoro and Wendy Goldberg make the case to the incoming Obama team for Chinese internet censorship to be treated as a trade barrier:
Almost all discussion of the harm done by China's strict censorship of the Internet focuses around its human rights implications. However, by restraining the ability of U.S. companies to fairly compete in the world's largest market, serious damage is also being done to America's free trade interests by its largest trading partner.
I agree there's an argument to be made here. On the other hand, I do think that perhaps they overstate the case a bit at times. For example, they say:
The United States, Canada, and the European Union recently won an important WTO-based concession from China which may have a positive effect in moving this issue forward. In November 2008, a formal complaint based on China's WTO obligations was settled by agreeing to allow financial information providers, including Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones and Bloomberg, to distribute financial news independently of the Chinese-controlled Xinhua news agency. These news organizations will now be able to set up shop independently of Xinhua and establish direct commercial relationships with Chinese subscribers -- and make it much harder for the Chinese government to censor news about the country's economy. While the issues are more complex in the case of broad Internet services, the idea that censorship and control of information violates fundamental trade principles has now been firmly established.
Reading this, I wonder which "trade principles" they have in mind. In the financial services case, there were some non-discrimination issues (with Xinhua favored over foreign competitors), which are clearly a "fundamental trade principle." By contrast, I'm not sure which trade principles are at issue here. The authors perhaps imply there is discrimination in the censorship context when they say:
Censorship gives an unfair market advantage to Chinese internet providers like Baidu, which doesn't need to present a superior product to lead the market - it needs simply to offer operational and editorial compliance with what the government wants, or what Baidu thinks it wants.
However, it's not clear to me how Baidu has an advantage. Aren't they being censored, too, and in the same exact way? The core of the financial services case, it seems to me, was government action favoring a domestic company. But from what I can tell, it's harder to make the case that this is what is going on here.