My recent post, "Second Lawsuit Accuses Cisco of Enabling China to Oppress Citizens," recounted allegations stemming from the oppression of associates of Harry Wu, a well-known dissident who spent nearly two decades in Chinese forced-labor prisons. But there's more to the story, and it helps to explain why Cisco was targeted in the suit. It turns out Wu was infuriated by what he saw as blatant hypocrisy exhibited by Cisco as a corporate sponsor of the ceremony in Oslo in December to award the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Dan Ward, the attorney who filed the suit, told me that Wu attended the ceremony, and was incensed when he saw that Cisco was a sponsor. In fact, Wu wrote a letter to Cisco CEO John Chambers dated Jan. 3 to express his dismay. Here's an excerpt from that letter:
I was quite surprised upon arriving in Oslo to find that your company, Cisco, was a major corporate sponsor of the Nobel Peace Prize. I am happy that Cisco has chosen to support such a worthy event, but I find myself deeply troubled by another side of Cisco's global operations. Since November 2000, Cisco has been actively engaged in helping the Chinese secret police to ensnare dissidents just like Liu Xiaobo. In addition to providing specialized routers for garden-variety internet censorship, Cisco has been instrumental in providing equipment and training for the "Golden Shield Project," a nationwide security surveillance network, which includes a national database and tracking system, which help to strengthen the government's control of the Chinese people. Cisco has also customized its training programs for Chinese police officers and incorporated additional tracking features into its products.
Liu Xiaobo was sentenced in part because of his writings on overseas Chinese-language news sites, including my own site, Observe China, which is blocked by the Great Firewall. Mr. Liu wrote over 260 articles for Observe China, and three of these (along with three others from other sources) were raised in his trial and cited as reasons why he was "subverting State power." I can personally assure you that while these articles urged the Chinese government to move towards a freer, more democratic society, they were certainly not criminal. Mr. Liu himself has stated that "it is time we move beyond a society where words are viewed as crimes."
I urge you to consider the human impact of Cisco's business decisions in China. You may be aware that IBM provided equipment to Adolf Hitler, which was used in the Holocaust. Although the company later regretted their involvement and apologized almost sixty years after the fact, their actions undeniably assisted Hitler in his quest to eliminate the Jews. I am not advocating that you cut your business ties completely with China. That would be an impossibility in today's increasingly interconnected world. Cisco's actions, however, have gone beyond the mere sales of equipment; the company has been actively involved in the training of police departments, and has introduced specialized surveillance functionality, knowing full well that this technology is being used by the Chinese secret police for political aims. I think that you, as the CEO, must ask yourself whether Cisco has acted in an ethical manner in its dealings with the Chinese government. It is unacceptable to say that you were not aware of what was happening in your Chinese regional offices. Cisco should also clarify to the American people exactly what surveillance technology it sold to the Chinese government, how it has helped deploy that technology, and what it is being used for. Too many dissidents like Mr. Liu have paid with the best years of their lives so that your company could profit off of the Chinese regime's desire to repress its people. Cisco should take every step to ensure that the company is standing on the right side of history.
According to Ward, Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler met with Wu on June 6, the day the suit was filed. But Chambers never bothered to respond to Wu's letter. I asked Ward whether the lawsuit might have been prevented if Chambers had made the effort to reply. His response:
Whether or not Mr. Chambers responded to Mr. Wu's letter would not change the irrefutable fact that Cisco's willful and knowing acts aided and abetted (and continue to aid and abet) the Chinese Communist Party's gross violations of my clients' human rights. Given that fact, I am not sure what Mr. Chambers could have written that would have prevented the filing of our lawsuit.