From Luke Peterson:
There are growing signs that investment treaty protections – while rarely discussed in media or human rights law circles - may be surprisingly useful in some cases of repression or censorship of foreign-owned media. While there is growing debate as to the uses of World Trade Organization agreements to combat certain forms of state repression of media actors, less attention has been paid to the potential of international investment law to combat certain forms of state censorship and repression. With the US Department of State now signaling that internet freedom should be advanced through US foreign policy, it remains to be seen whether the US negotiating position on international investment treaties will shift so as to embrace this foreign policy objective. Ongoing investment treaty talks between the US and China could provide the obvious forum for this issue to be raised and debated.
I agree with Luke (if I am reading him correctly) that investment protections may be more effective than trade rules on the issue of censorship (internet and otherwise). There are two reasons for this: (1) there is no government filter to bringing complaints and (2) some of the substantive investment rules seem particularly useful. Presumably, China is aware of all this, though, which makes me wonder whether China would ever sign on to investor-state protections with countries that have significant foreign investments in China.
Michael Snarr of the China - U.S Trade Law blog thinks China and the U.S. will sign a BIT sooner rather than later: