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Chinese bloggers plea to Secretary Kerry for Internet freedom

During his four day Asian tour, Secretary of State, John Kerry, spent time on Saturday with Chinese bloggers who asked for him to take up their cause for a free Internet.

While Mr. Kerry, who arrived here on Friday to discuss regional issues with China’s leaders, he gave the Chinese group a meeting to discuss the ability of Chinese citizens to gain access to information. They told him that they under siege and that the country’s prospects for becoming a democracy were uncertain at best.

‘Will you get together with the Chinese who aspire for freedom’ and help ‘tear down this great firewall that blocks the Internet?’ asked Zhang Jialong, a reporter for Tencent Finance, a division of China’s largest social media company.

Mr. Zhang, who was detained for three days in 2011 because of his posts about conflicts between the artist Ai Weiwei and the Chinese authorities, asked Mr. Kerry to look into reports that American companies had helped the Chinese government establish controls over what websites Chinese citizens could access.

Wang Keqin, an investigative reporter who American officials said had been forced to leave an economic publication because of his critical reporting, said the cause of Internet freedom was ‘going backward.’ ‘There is less of it,’ he said.

Ma Xiaolin, a former correspondent with the official news agency Xinhua who is a co-founder of a blogging site, said websites had become the main sources of news and expressed hope that the Chinese government would ease its Internet controls if relations with the United States improved.

‘Obviously, we think that the Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the Internet,’ Mr. Kerry said. His view to the Internet supporters was one of strides forward.

The United States Embassy organized the 40-minute session a day after Mr. Kerry met with President Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese officials.

The group specifically asked Mr. Kerry if he would make a visit this trip to Mrs. Liu, the wife of Liu Xiaobo, a writer and activist who was imprisoned after being charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ While in prison, Mr. Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

The secretary of state did not directly respond to that appeal but noted he was only here for a day and a half.

‘We constantly press these issues at all of our meetings, whether it is in the United States or here, at every level, and we will continue to do so,’ Mr. Kerry said.

This meeting comes at a time when the EU calls for the California based ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), currently oversees Internet governance issues, including the assignment of top-level domains, to relinquish dominance of that role. The U.S. government and ICANN have a long-standing operating agreement, but in recent years, many countries have questioned the arrangement, especially the past several months due to the NSA surveillance issues.

The historical relationship, noted in ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments, is outdated and the governance of the Internet must become more global, said the E.U. Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, last Wednesday in Brussels.

Mr. Kerry told the bloggers at the meeting that he had 'not heard other charges' that American companies had helped Chinese authorities maintain control over Internet access, but promised to look into that matter.

Seeking to reassure the bloggers, Mr. Kerry said that human rights were a perennial issue in his meetings with Chinese officials and that he had repeatedly taken up the cause of press and religious freedom.

To view more articles on Secretary Kerry in Asia and the EU stance for a global Internet see the list below in Author's suggestions and the video atop this article with Secretary Kerry and the Chinese bloggers.

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