TIME Singapore

Singapore Has Banned an Archie Comic for Depicting a Gay Wedding

In an installment of Life With Archie first published in 2012, the franchise tackled the issue of gay marriage head on — by putting it on the cover. The Hollywood Reporter

A recent crackdown on publications discussing homosexuality sheds light on Singapore's traditional moral values and notoriously restricted press

State media censors in Singapore have banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank presentation of gay marriage, a matter that remains socially taboo and legally verboten in Southeast Asia’s most developed state.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) censored the comic book, first published in January 2012, earlier this year, but the ban is only just now coming to light — a week after another state agency removed three children’s books promoting tolerance of same-sex relationships from the national library’s shelves.

The third installment in Archie: The Married Life, one of several spinoff series in the multifarious Archie universe, features the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay character whose creation in 2010 earned writer Dan Parent a GLAAD Media Award last year. (In the latest volume, Archie dies taking a bullet for Kevin, now a U.S. Senator.)

As critic Alyssa Rosenberg noted Wednesday in The Washington Post, the 75-year-old comic book franchise has in recent years adopted a distinctly political subtext, taking on issues of topical significance as they come: Kevin, a gay solider, was introduced as the Obama administration was deliberating the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Archie’s interracial marriage made the cover in 2012.

Social progressivism isn’t really Singapore’s forte, though.

“[We]… found its content to be in breach of guidelines because of its depiction of the same sex marriage of two characters in the comic,” an MDA spokesperson said in a statement to TIME. “We thus informed the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets.”

In its guidelines for imported publications, the MDA prohibits comics and other illustrated material that depict or discuss “alternative lifestyles or deviant sexual practices,” listing homosexuality as an example of such (alongside “group sex and sadomasochism”).

Such stringent regulations are par for the course in Singapore, where social conservatism reigns supreme and strict curbs are placed on the dissemination of information. The country ranks 149th of the 179 countries listed in the 2013 Press Freedom Index — between Iraq and Vladimir Putin’s Russia — earning it the distinction of having the least free press of any developed economy in the world.

Concerning the recent purge of homosexual content, though, these restrictions may not be completely unwelcome. Sodomy, although rarely prosecuted, is criminalized as an act of “gross indecency,” and the majority of citizens, according to one survey, still take a “conservative approach” to marital and family matters. Indeed, the MDA claims to predicate its censorship decisions upon “public feedback or complaints,” and only turned its attention to the Archie comic after receiving a number of grievances.

TIME Singapore

Singapore Provokes Outrage by Pulping Kids’ Books About Gay Families

Toddler plays with bubbles as participants wait to take part in the forming of a giant pink dot at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore
A toddler plays with bubbles during the Pink Dot parade at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. Edgar Su—Reuters

One of the books, the multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three, recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York's Central Park Zoo

The Singapore government has ordered the National Library Board (NLB) to remove from library shelves and destroy three children’s books that portray gay, lesbian or unconventional families.

The multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The other two banned titles are The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, which features a lesbian couple, and Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families, which describes unconventional parental set-ups.

The move has resulted in a torrent of opposition in mainstream and social media, the latter largely via the #FreeMyLibrary hashtag. An open letter criticizing the ban has also received more than 4,000 signatures.

“This is a very unfortunate step backwards,” Kirpal Singh, associate professor of English Literature at Singapore Management University, tells TIME. “While we try to balance the conservatives and liberal minded, do we remove anything or everything that gives offense, especially if this offense is quite problematic, quite complex?”

Homosexuality is a sensitive subject in ostensibly modern Singapore. Gay sex remains illegal but is rarely prosecuted, and an estimated 26,000 revelers thronged this year’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally — one of the largest public gatherings of any sort seen in recent years. Nevertheless, society remains conservative.

According to a NLB statement, “We take a cautious approach, particularly in books and materials for children. NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”

The ban was reportedly spurred by a complaint from a single library user who is also a member of the Facebook group “We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore.”

The NLB boasts a collection of more than five million books and audio-visual materials, and a spokesperson told Channel News Asia that it acts on less than a third of the 20 or so removal requests received each year. (James Patterson’s Kill Me If You Can, which depicts incest, was the subject of a complaint but remains on the shelves.)

Naturally, gay rights activists are outraged. “This unfortunate decision sends a message of rejection to many loving families that do not conform to the narrow father-mother-children definition of family that it has adopted,” said Pink Dot spokesperson Paerin Choa by email. “Pink Dot believes that Singapore can be an inclusive home for its people in all their diversity, and that constructive dialogue should be the way forward for a truly embracing society.”

For Singh, the furor may at least have the positive side effect of prompting debate. “This may contribute to a more vital discussion for Singapore in terms of where we are and where we are not when it comes to values, freedoms and an open state for discourse,” he says.

While praising the NLB as an institution, acclaimed Singaporean author Alvin Pang writes: “This is a serious impoverishment of what books are and what knowledge means, and it can only harm our intellectual development and broader social discourse.”

Justin Richardson, co-author of And Tango Makes Three, would no doubt agree. “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”

TIME Burma

Burmese Journalists Sentenced to a Decade in Prison With Hard Labor

Myanmar Journalist Protest
Burmese journalists hold banners as they protest for press freedom outside the office of the Daily Eleven newspaper in Rangoon on Jan. 7, 2014. Khin Maung Win—AP

Five journalists were handed astonishingly harsh sentences for reporting about an alleged chemical-weapons plant in the central part of the country

Burma may no longer be a pariah state, but its courts have shown that the government’s authoritarian tendencies are alive and well.

On Thursday, a court in Pakokku Township sentenced the CEO of the Unity Weekly current-affairs magazine, and four of its reporters, to a decade in prison with hard labor for publishing an article earlier this year about the possible existence of a chemical-weapons factory in central Burma.

“This is blatant bullying of media workers by the government’s judicial and executive sectors,” Unity reporter Lu Maw Naing told Burmese broadcaster DVB Multimedia as policemen hustled him out of the courthouse.

Following the publication of the article in January, the government cracked down hard on the periodical. It was hit with a lawsuit by the President’s Office, issues of the magazine were seized and reporters were arrested. The journal was soon shuttered as financial pressures mounted.

While the government has confirmed the existence of the factory, Naypyidaw says it is for standard munitions and denies allegations that chemical weapons are being produced on the grounds. The claims are impossible to independently verify because Burma is a not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The former generals at the country’s helm remain sensitive about reporting on weapons programs launched by the former junta. Despite the easing of a smattering of sanctions against Burma in the past two years, several nations, including the U.S., have refused to drop sanctions that target members of the country’s shady military.

Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of developments that belie Burma’s reformist narrative. Opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from holding the country’s highest office, the internal peace process is stagnating and the rise of Buddhist nationalism has ripped massive holes in the diverse country’s delicate social fabric.

In addition, the fourth estate now appears to be firmly in the government’s crosshairs. In the past year, reporters from DVB and Eleven Media have been jailed, and in May the government deported a foreign journalist for covering a press-freedom rally. The palpable optimism that wafted over the nation three years ago is waning rapidly.

“I think [this case] shows the true colors of this government,” Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy news magazine, tells TIME. “It’s a real reminder of the old days under the previous repressive regime.”

During a radio address to the nation earlier this month, President Thein Sein boasted that Burma’s media environment was one of the freest in Southeast Asia. However, he added the caveat that journalists who undermine “national security” would be punished.

“[If] media freedom threatens national security instead of helping the nation, I want to warn all that we will take effective action under existing laws,” said Thein Sein, according to a state-run publication.

Just a week later, the threat became reality for the reporters of Unity Weekly. The administration relied on the colonial-era Official Secrets Act to wallop the journalists rather than prosecuting them through newly passed media legislation.

“The authorities are clearly shifting from rule of law to rule by law,” says Benjamin Ismail, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.

“They are just trying to justify their censorship and repression of the press by showing the international community that legal procedures are followed and everything is normal.”

Editors on the ground say the financially ruinous lawsuit launched against Unity is part of the government’s elaborate strategy to silence dissent. With myriad publications struggling to keep their head above the water in the impoverished country, any legal action could prove disastrous.

“There’s a clear glass ceiling from the owners or the business side,” says Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief. “Once there is trouble, of course you lose money.”

Harassment of editors also appears to be on the rise. In the past two weeks, numerous press offices have reportedly been party to unannounced visits from officers from the military’s special branch.

“They come to our office and other media offices asking petty questions: ‘How are you making money?’ ‘Are you making a lot of business?’ ‘Are you making a profit?’” says Aung Zaw. “It’s clearly intimidation.”

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Revokes a Famed Academic’s Passport in Its Crackdown on Dissidents

THAILAND-POLITICS-PROTEST
Thai policemen stand guard during a demonstration by an anticoup protester at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 22, 2014. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

Little wonder the BBC's World Service has launched a new Thai-language “pop-up” Internet service to counter the military's tightening grip on media and opinion

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the prominent Thai political scholar and outspoken opponent of the country’s coup, has had his passport revoked as part of the Thai junta’s ongoing campaign against dissenters.

“I am now a stateless person,” Pavin, who is based at Japan’s Kyoto University, tells TIME. “The junta not only claims the right to take control of politics, but the right to define who should be, or should not be, Thai citizens.”

Pavin has not been charged with any crime and is now expected to seek asylum in Japan.

Since the May 22 putsch, the junta has stifled all forms of opposition. Politicians on both sides of the political divide have been detained, strict censorship introduced and peaceful protesters hauled off the street by soldiers in civilian clothing for the merest flickers of dissent. These include making the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games, reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, and serving or eating sandwiches — an anticoup symbol — in an “antagonistic” manner.

Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of the Red Shirt–leaning Fah Diew Khan magazine, was detained over the weekend for simply posting on Facebook that military authorities had instructed him to refrain from making critical remarks about the junta. He is expected to remain in custody for seven days.

Until now, only Thai nationals outside the country have felt able to voice opposition to the coup — the Southeast Asian nation’s 12th since 1932. However, this may change now that Pavin has been made an example of. Considerable pressure is also being put on dissenting Thais living abroad, through both diplomatic channels and threats to family members still at home.

Pavin was a particularly vocal critic of the military and repeatedly refused to return to his homeland and report to the authorities as instructed. When first summoned, he famously offered to send his pet Chihuahua instead, and has continued to pen disparaging op-eds and to condemn the junta to foreign media.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the BBC’s World Service launched a new Thai-language “pop-up” Internet service to counter the propaganda being peddled by the military regime.

“One of the fundamental principles of the World Service is to bring impartial and accurate news and to countries when they lack it,” Liliane Landor, controller of language services for the World Service, told the Telegraph. “We think the time is right to trial a new Thai and English digital stream to bring trusted news and information to people inside Thailand.”

TIME Google

Google Starts Scrubbing News Articles From Search After Court Ruling

'The ruling has created a stopwatch on free expression,' one British editor wrote

+ READ ARTICLE

Raising concerns about censorship and the freedom of the press, articles from major British news outlets are beginning to be removed from some Google search results after a European court ruling began allowing citizens to request their personal histories to be scrubbed from search engines.

The Guardian and the BBC have both received takedown notices from Google, informing them that articles they have written about certain public figures will no longer appear in search results when users search for certain names because of the so-called “right to be forgotten.”

According to The Guardian, Google removed three articles about Dougie McDonald, a retired soccer referee who was forced to resign after a controversial penalty call in 2010. The articles can still be found through some Google searches, but they don’t appear when searching for McDonald’s name. Another article about French workers making art with post-it notes is being affected, as is another about a solicitor facing a fraud trial. It’s also become harder to search for a BBC blog post critical of former Merrill Lynch chairman Stan O’Neal and his actions before the 2008 global financial crisis.

It’s not clear who requested the removals, but it’s likely to have been someone either mentioned in the articles or whose names appeared in the articles’ comments sections. Generally, the results are only censored in search results for the name of the person who requested the takedown. That can make it possible to identify the name involved in the request, if not the identity of the requester.

The search changes that have already taken place illustrate the difficult balance Google and European regulators must strike to enforce the Right To Be Forgotten, which enshrines individual privacy online while sacrificing some elements of free speech. Several British journalists, including Guardian editor James Ball, have spoken out against what they view as a form of censorship.

“The Guardian, like the rest of the media, regularly writes about things people have done which might not be illegal but raise serious political, moral or ethical questions,” Guardian editor James Ball wrote in a post discussing the removals. “The ruling has created a stopwatch on free expression – our journalism can be found only until someone asks for it to be hidden.”

Google has already received more than 70,000 requests to scrub web pages from its search results since the ruling came down in May. That ruling says individuals can request search engines to remove information about them that’s no longer relevant or timely. The definition of “relevant” is, of course, subjective. That ambiguity has made Google an arbiter for what does and doesn’t deserve to remain readily accessible on the Internet — if Google refuses to comply with a takedown request, individuals have the right to litigate the issue in court, a process that could rack up huge legal fees for Google.

Google hasn’t disclosed how many requests it has approved or the guidelines it’s using to make approval decisions. “This is a new and evolving process for us,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling.”

For now, the removals only seem to affect the European versions of Google’s website. Searches on Google.com, the U.S.-based version of Google, still display the articles in question for all queries.

TIME China

7 Reasons Chinese Censors Don’t Like Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives to sign copies of her book "Hard Choices" at a Barnes & Noble book store in Los Angeles
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives to sign copies of her book "Hard Choices" at a Barnes & Noble book store in Los Angeles, California on June 19, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

Though careful in her handling of domestic political hot potatoes, the former Secretary of State holds little back when it comes to China

The publisher of Hillary Clinton’s new political memoir, Hard Choices, told Buzzfeed Thursday that sales of the book have been effectively banned in China.

The reasons are not hard to figure out. Clinton’s book, though notable for its careful treatment of controversial domestic issues, is full of criticism of the Chinese regime and its existing policy of state censorship. She also goes into great detail about her interactions with senior Chinese officials on some of the most sensitive issues for China, and maintains a consistent tone of disapproval for the regimes suppression of Democratic rights.

Here is a cursory glance at seven passages from the book that may be the most offensive to the Chinese:

She knocks China for blocking a U.N. resolution to call out North Korea for sinking of a South Korean naval vessel.

“Here was one of China’s contradictions in full view. Beijing claimed to prize stability above all else, yet it was tacitly condoning naked aggression that was profoundly destabilizing.” (Page 56)

She details China’s recent domestic suppression efforts.

“Things had only gotten worse in 2011. In the first few months, dozens of public interest lawyers, writers, artists, intellectuals, and activists were arbitrarily detained and arrested.” (Page 63)

She describes the work of Chinese censorship efforts on her speeches.

“In China, however, censors went right to work erasing mentions of my message from the Internet.” (Page 64)

She describes confrontations with President Jiang about China’s treatment of Tibet.

“‘But what about their traditions and the right to practice their religion as they choose?’ I persisted. He forcefully insisted that Tibet was a part of China and demanded to know why Americans advocated for those ‘necromancers.’ Tibetans ‘were victims of religion. They are now freed from feudalism,’ he declared.” (page 68)

She questions the power of former Chinese President Hu Jintao

[H]e lacked the personal authority of predecessors such as Deng Xiaoping or Jiang Zemin. Hu seemed to me more like an aloof chairman of the board than a hands-on CEO. (Page 72)

She tells the story of dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng taking refuge in the U.S. embassy.

Bob hustled Chen into the car, threw a jacket over his head, and sped off. Bob reported back to Washington with an update from the car, and we all held our breath, hoping that they wouldn’t be stopped before reaching the safety of the embassy grounds. (Page 87)

She describes the Chinese crackdown on speech, and the nation’s censorship regime.

“The ‘Great Firewall’ blocked foreign websites and particular pages with content perceived as threatening to the Communist Party. Some reports estimate that China employed as many as 100,000 censors to patrol the web.” (Page 548)

TIME Iraq

Facebook, YouTube Blocked in Iraq Amid Increasing Violence

Sites including Facebook and Youtube appear to be censored as the country appears to be spiraling into chaos

Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms are largely inaccessible in Iraq Friday as the country is being threatened by a Sunni insurgency advancing on the capital.

“We are disturbed by reports of access issues in Iraq and are investigating. Limiting access to Internet services — essential for communication and commerce for millions of people — is a matter of concern for the global community,” a spokesperson for Facebook told TIME.

YouTube also confirmed that the company is receiving reports that “some users” in Iraq are unable to access the site. “There is no technical issue on our side and we’re looking into the situation,” a spokesperson said.

“Users in Iraq are reporting issues accessing our service, Twitter said. “We’re investigating their reports and we hope service will be restored quickly.”

Citing an anonymous source purportedly inside Iraq’s Ministry of Communications, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) also reported that social networking sites, as well as “a number of pornographic websites,” have been blocked in Iraq.

“The source did not reveal the motive for blocking these sites at the moment,” KUNA reports, “although some see it as part of government measure to prevent militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) from using media outlets. ISIL militants have released videos and pictures through websites to promote their actions in central and north of Iraq.”

TIME apps

20 Million Chinese WeChat Accounts Closed for Links to Prostitution

Images Of Tencent Holdings Ltd. As Company Plans Share Split After Earnings Miss Estimate On WeChat Expenses
The download page for Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s WeChat application Bloomberg—Getty Images

In response to pressure from Beijing

The Chinese company behind the popular messaging app WeChat said Tuesday that it had shut down 20 million accounts for being linked to prostitution.

Tencent Holdings Ltd. dubbed the massive shutdowns “Thunder Strike” in a blog post. WeChat is a three-and-a-half-year-old micro-messaging site with an active-user base that just surpassed 396 million people—meaning Tencent shut down 5% of active accounts. The purging of accounts came in response to a May government crackdown specifically against the platform. Many use the app as a news source in a heavily censored web environment, but the government said it also being used for harmful practices ranging from fraud to terrorism to prostitution. Authorities had promised to “hold service providers responsible if they do not fulfill their duty,” according to Chinese state media outlet Xinhua.

WeChat said last week that it would clean up its accounts from to “protect the user experience.”

TIME India

In India, Publishers Are Dumping Books Instead of Defending Them

INDIA-BUSINESS
An Indian book vendor arranges items at his shop in New Delhi's Old Quarter on Jan. 30, 2013. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

Cowed by pressure groups, Indian publishers are withdrawing scholarly titles deemed offensive to hard-line Hindus instead of defending them in court

Bucking the global decline in revenues, the business of books in India is actually expanding — and at an exponential rate — buoyed by a massive English-speaking market and a growing, educated middle-class hungry for, and able to afford, written work of every genre and format.

But instead of becoming more open, publishing in India these days — or at least scholarly publishing — operates in an anxious climate. Beset by vexatious legal notices, mostly from hard-line Hindu organizations offended by the portrayal of Hinduism in academic works, more and more publishers are practicing a form of self-censorship by dumping titles from their catalogs rather than going to the expense of defending them in court. The situation is grave enough that authors and academics voice fears for the future of political debate in the country. Since January, more than half a dozen highly acclaimed books have been withdrawn or placed on hold. Many more withdrawals may be in the pipeline, insiders say.

“What is the point of printing heaps of books when freedom of speech is not respected?” asks British author William Dalrymple, whose 2009 work Nine Lives: in Search of the Sacred in Modern India was a masterful survey of Indians and religious thought.

The latest casualty is a book titled Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad Since 1969 by Megha Kumar, a young scholar at Oxford. Worryingly, no suit has been filed against the book itself, which is a rigorous look at the role of rape during sectarian troubles in the largest city of Gujarat, newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state. Instead, its publisher, the academic press Orient Blackswan, withdrew it from the market because a legal notice it received, concerning a textbook published a decade ago, caused it to review the rest of its catalog, including Kumar’s book.

That notice, from Dinanath Batra, convener of the Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, claimed that the textbook From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India, by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, had portrayed another Hindu-nationalist organization in a bad light. Fearing that Communalism and Sexual Violence would attract similar legal action if it remained on sale, and concerned that its staff might suffer violent reprisals, Orient Blackswan told Kumar that her book would be set aside.

“What is troubling is that the publisher was not served a notice against Dr. Kumar’s book. The publisher is withdrawing books as a precautionary measure,” Dalrymple says.

Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti is the same group that came to an out-of-court settlement with Penguin India in February to withdraw from sale University of Chicago professor Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. Publisher Penguin pulped all copies of the book in India, sparking global outrage from free-speech activists. (In April, Aleph Book Co. agreed that it would not reprint another of Doniger’s books, On Hinduism, until Batra’s objections to it were entertained by an independent panel of scholars. The book is currently unavailable.)

Batra has been filing cases under Section 153A and Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which deal with hate speech. But the publishers have nothing to worry about, says Lawrence Liang of the Alternative Law Forum, who has studied issues around free speech for the past 15 years. “There is nothing that can go against a publisher who decides to take on a legal battle on free speech. Fought correctly, they are bound to win,” says Liang. However, “they are just not willing to fight a legal battle fearing the rising economic costs involved in it. They find it cheaper to withdraw books.”

Many blame Penguin India for having set a precedent by conceding to the demands of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti a few months ago. “It was an extremely shortsighted decision by Penguin — they saved a few dollars for the company at the cost of a free society for all,” says Dalrymple.

After Penguin withdrew Doniger’s book, two other Penguin authors, Siddharth Varadarajan and Jyotirmaya Sharma, announced their decision to withdraw their books in protest. Varadarajan will instead self-publish his book on the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“Such a scenario raises questions of academic living and working in India,” says Kumar. “What does this mean for the future of fearless debates and critical thinking in the country?”

TIME China

China Escalates Its War on American Tech Firms

Microsoft celebrates upcoming Windows 8 in China
Guests try out the Microsoft Windows 8 operation system on touchable screens of desktop computers during the preview show of the new operation system and tablet computer Surface in Shanghai, China, Oct. 23, 2012. An Tu—EPA

The Chinese government, angered by Washington's charge that Beijing engages in cyberspying, is looking for some payback

U.S. technology firms have often found China a tough market. Microsoft has struggled with widespread software piracy. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all blocked by Chinese censors. That costs the American Internet giants untold numbers of potential customers. Now, in the wake of Washington’s charges against five Chinese military officials for cyberspying, a riled Beijing has intensified its criticism of U.S. tech businesses.

Chinese media this week attacked numerous U.S. tech firms for, in effect, acting as agents of American espionage. A report in the state-run China Daily on Wednesday warned that a range of American companies, including Cisco, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo!, could be used by Washington to spy on China. “Foreign technology services providers such as Google and Apple can become cybersecurity threats to Chinese users,” the newspaper asserted. A post on the official microblog of another state-owned publication, the People’s Daily, labeled American tech firms “pawns of the villain” and vowed to take stern action against any nefarious deeds. “For anyone who steals our information, even though they are far away, we shall punish them!” the blog promised. (Although the post was subsequently removed.)

The consequences of any effort by the Chinese government to restrict American technology businesses could be huge. China is a major market for all sorts of such products, from smartphones to software, and sales to Chinese companies and consumers are an ever more important source of sales for foreign firms. In its last fiscal year, for instance, Apple earned 15% of its revenues —­ more than $25 billion — from Greater China.

Beijing could move beyond mere rhetoric into active steps to prevent Chinese companies from acquiring U.S. technology. In May, even before Washington’s charges of cyberspying were announced, China’s state procurement center banned the use of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system on government computers. The reason was not made clear, but Chinese state media cited possible security concerns after Microsoft discontinued its support for Windows XP. Separately, one press report claimed that government officials are pressing Chinese banks to replace IBM servers with local brands as a security measure. (A spokesman for IBM in China says the company is unaware of any such policy.)

The U.S. is somewhat guilty of taking similar measures against the Chinese. Citing the potential security risk, Washington has effectively blocked China’s Huawei from selling telecom equipment to major American service providers or making acquisitions in the U.S. For China, though, the situation is slightly different. China is still a technology laggard and badly needs American know-how. Nor in some cases are there viable domestic alternative to foreign technology. (It is not exactly clear, for instance, what government computers will use for an operating system if not Windows 8.) Those realities may ultimately limit Beijing’s ability to shun American technology firms.

Still, the war of words is not helping already strained relations between the world’s two largest economies. American and Chinese officials have exchanged barbs in recent days over escalating territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbors, including U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines. Trade disagreements also continue. The U.S. Commerce Department said this week it intends to slap steep tariffs on certain Chinese-made solar panels this week. The danger is that these percolating problems will eventually stifle the economic cooperation both sides need to drive growth. More than U.S. tech firms may then find themselves targets.

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