Since 2009, China has blocked Facebook, the world's largest online social media network. This year, Renren, one of China's largest social networks, plans to raise $500 million on the New York Stock Exchange (NYX). So a Chinese social network can tap U.S. capital markets, but American social networks can't tap Chinese consumer markets. Does that sound fair?
If Facebook grew corn or built cars, the cry would go out that China was putting up barriers to trade. That hasn't happened because U.S. officials and politicians have typically viewed China's Internet censorship as a human rights, not a trade, problem. That's changing—slowly. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which negotiates trade deals, has been reviewing the idea of Internet censorship as a trade barrier at least since 2007. A nonbinding clause protecting "cross-border information flows" is part of the still-unratified Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. And on Mar. 7 the trade office told Bloomberg Businessweek it is "considering proposals" for stricter language in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement under negotiation with Pacific-Rim countries such as Vietnam, Australia, and Malaysia (not China).
Here's what I wonder: Does China argue that the relevant measures are non-discriminatory, in the sense that any social network site is allowed if it complies with certain rules, and Facebook is blocked because it won't follow the rules? If that's not it, how does China justify its blocking of Facebook while it allows Renren?