Already under fire for seeking to usurp new powers to control the Internet, the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is facing intense criticism after appointing a Chinese Communist to lead the controversial UN agency starting next year. Even more alarming, perhaps, is that the new ITU boss claims censorship is in the eye of the beholder. On October 23, at an ITU summit in Busan, South Korea, member governments and dictatorships overwhelmingly selected Houlin Zhao (shown) of mainland China — where the dictatorship operates among the most Orwellian censorship regimes on Earth, currently working on overdrive to spin and conceal the uprising in Hong Kong — to serve as the UN outfit’s secretary general. Zhao joins a growing roster of Chinese Communist operatives in charge of powerful UN agencies.
Considering the largely totalitarian-minded member regimes within the UN and its telecommunications agency, which has openly sought to seize control over the World Wide Web, analysts said the fact that a Communist Chinese figure will lead it was hardly surprising. However, the decision is likely to have an unintended side effect: It will now become much more difficult for the ITU and its member regimes to advance their plot for global regulation of the Internet by the UN. Already, Western governments have resisted ITU calls for planetary controls over the Web. With Zhao’s appointment — heavily influenced by behind-the-scenes scheming from Beijing, as Communist Chinese propaganda outlets readily admitted — such a plot becomes even more controversial. It may even kill the globalist dream of UN Internet controls entirely.
Zhao, currently the UN agency’s deputy boss, certainly did not help matters with his answers to questions about Internet censorship after securing his new post. “We [at the ITU] don’t have a common interpretation of what censorship means,” the soon-to-be-installed secretary general was quoted by the Korean Yonhap news agency as saying. “A country can ask people not to watch pornography, and some consider this as also kind of censorship. We have not got a common definition.” When asked about the Communist Chinese dictatorship’s massive censorship regime targeting dissent, dissidents, and ideas it disagrees with, Zhao was evasive. “Some kind of censorship may not be strange to other countries,” he responded.
It may well be true that “some kind of censorship” would not be “strange” to other countries. After all, there are plenty of governments within the UN’s ITU that censor the Internet and ruthlessly punish those who dissent — including the one Zhao serves. From the communist regimes ruling Cuba and China to the Islamist dictatorships ruling over Iran and Saudi Arabia, widely divergent repressive autocrats around the world have found common cause in pushing for global censorship and control of the Web by the dictator-dominated UN. The ITU, for now at least, appears to be the chosen vehicle, as The New American magazine has been documenting for years. Leading the charge for global Internet controls, unsurprisingly, are the most autocratic regimes on Earth and the very UN agencies that would be doing the regulating.
In a bizarre twist reminiscent of Beijing’s Ministry of Propaganda deceptions, Zhao claimed that “everybody supports this concept of freedom of speech.” Well, everybody except the overwhelming majority of the world’s governments — those who call the shots at the controversial UN agency. “We will try to touch some kind of areas of this,” Zhao continued in his interview with the Yonhap News Agency. “But this is deeply related to the so-called context issues.” When asked about his own communist government’s censorship of the Internet, the new would-be global Internet overlord said it was a “matter of interpretation.”
Right now, the Communist Chinese censors are working overtime to disparage the uprising in Hong Kong against communist tyranny while hiding it, as much as possible, from the mainland Chinese population. However, the censorship regime operated by Beijing — sometimes described as the “Great Firewall of China” — is infamous for concealing the truth on everything from the Tiananmen Square massacre to Mao Tse-tung’s barbaric mass-murdering extermination campaigns and everything in between. By contrast, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is crystal clear and not open to any interpretation: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. So, it is true that there is no “common interpretation” of censorship at ITU, but it is also true that such an outfit is entirely incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and with human liberty.
“The ITU is a special agency for technology and infrastructure,” Zhao continued, offering a troubling preview of the potential for espionage and mischief by the Communist Chinese regime’s gargantuan spying apparatus. “Freedom of speech is discussed on other platforms. We are not trying to take the issue to overlap (with other agencies).” Contrary to Zhao’s claims, as The New American has reported extensively, crushing freedom of speech online has indeed been discussed on numerous occasions at the ITU’s summits. In late 2012, for instance, the UN’s legions of would-be Internet controllers held an ITU conference in Dubai. Its machinations were so controversial that even the rabidly pro-UN Obama administration walked out.
Among other ITU proposals that stirred up a firestorm: Internet “reforms” that would stifle free speech, regulate social media, force Internet users to pay UN “fees” for services such as Skype and e-mail, and much more. Perhaps the most troubling scheme would have handed the UN outfit and its member regimes the power to demand the shutdown of content they do not approve of — a so-called Internet “Kill Switch.” The proposals also included calls for a global Internet surveillance regime that would allow national governments and autocrats to restrict or even block information online if it might “interfere” with the “internal affairs” of a UN member regime. Anonymity on the Internet has also been in the crosshairs since before the more recent ITU summits.
For now, none of those schemes have come to fruition. But if Zhao and ITU members get their way, with the Obama administration having unilaterally relinquished U.S. control over a key component of the Web’s architecture, a global Internet regulator will eventually become a reality. That has been made abundantly clear at various international gatherings in recent years — from theNETMundial Internet summit hosted by “former” communist terrorist and current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to the Internet Governance Forum recently hosted by the journalist-persecuting government of Turkey and presided over by Chinese Communist Wu Hongbo, the under-secretary-general of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Even members of the U.S. establishment have been pushing for an “internationalized” Internet that would give totalitarian governments more say in how the Web operates.
“As the newly elected secretary-general, I would like to assure you that I will do my best to fulfill ITU’s mission, and through our close cooperation, to make ITU in delivering services to the global telecommunication and information society at the level of excellence,” Zhao told 2,000 participants — primarily bureaucrats and operatives for member governments — at the Busan summit for the ITU. As part of his acceptance speech, Zhao also thanked “all Chinese friends who have worked hard to promote my candidature over the last two years.” Of course, with the regime in China supporting his candidacy, there should be little doubt that Zhao is an enthusiastic supporter of its brutal and oppressive policies.
At the ITU summit in South Korea (holding it north of the border may have been a bit too suspicious), delegates from more than 180 governments and dictatorships debated how and whether the UN agency could usurp new powers to censor and regulate the World Wide Web. Formally dubbed the ITU’s 19th Plenipotentiary Conference, the Wall Street Journal reported that the “main argument” underway involves how far the agency’s “mandate” to control “information and communication technology” could be extended into the virtual world without major changes to existing agreements. Led by the Kremlin, various unsavory regimes around the world infamous for restricting speech rights and the freedom of the press have sought to advance the notion that the UN agency has authority to create global rules for the Internet. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s delegate openly called for Internet rules to be “developed under the auspices of U.N. institutions.”
Of course, the current leader of ITU has also raised suspicion. Among other concerns, critics have highlighted the fact that Hamadoun Touré of Mali, the two-term secretary general whose term expires this year, was educated in the Soviet Union, earning his degree from the Moscow Technical University of Communication and Informatics. Meanwhile, the rulers of Communist China and other oppressed nations continue making major inroads at various UN agencies. At the World Health Organization, for example, mainland Chinese operative Margaret Chan is currently in charge, with the brutal communist regime in Cuba recently selected to lead WHO’s decision-making body. Separately, Communist Chinese operative Li Yong was recently selected to lead the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
Even if the UN and its agencies were not founded and led by such a suspicious cast of characters, giving governments — and especially international bureaucracies — the power to control the Internet would be a recipe for unmitigated disaster. Considering globalist proposals to tax and regulate the Web, the alarms should be sounding loud and clear. To preserve and advance freedom, the United States should withdraw from all of the UN outfits seeking to control the Internet, along with the UN itself. That would help ensure that, at least for Americans, the God-given rights to free speech and freedom of the press remain intact, regardless of the technology used. The alternative to Internet freedom looks a lot like Communist China — and so, protecting the online world from dictators and the UN “dictators club” must be a top priority for those who cherish life, liberty, and property.
Alex Newman, a foreign correspondent for The New American, is normally based in Europe. He can be reached at
Follow him on Twitter @ALEXNEWMAN_JOU.