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ICANN China “conflict” denied as Cruz looks for dirt

Kevin Murphy, March 7, 2016, 20:15:53 (UTC), Domain Policy

ICANN chair Steve Crocker has denied that outgoing CEO Fadi Chehade has a conflict of interest with the Chinese government, after US Senator Ted Cruz pressed him for more details on Chehade’s extra-curricular activities in the country.

“There’s no money involved, so there’s no conflict of interest involved at all,” Crocker said at a press conference, in response to a DI question, at ICANN 55 in Marrakech today.

I put the question because presidential hopeful Cruz, along with fellow senators James Lankford and Michael Lee, said in a letter last Thursday (pdf) that Chehade has a “confirmed personal conflict of interest” when it comes to the Chinese government.

That appears to be based on his admission, in a letter to Cruz et al last month, that his travel expenses to the World Internet Conference (aka, the Wuzhen Summit), where he’s agreed to be co-chair of an advisory committee after he leaves ICANN, would probably be picked up by the Chinese government.

According to Cruz, Chehade is in the pocket of the Chinese government because he has accepted or will accept flight-plus-hotel expenses to a Chinese conference, which could distract him from his $900,000-a-year ICANN salary.

Cruz’s most recent letter seeks further information about Chehade’s involvement with Wuzhen and the ICANN board’s response when they found out about it.

It appears to be basically an effort to get as much evidence as possible to support the ludicrous Republican claim that the IANA transition process initiated by the Obama administration risks handing control over internet censorship to the Chinese.

This, while some governments are complaining that the community-drafted IANA transition proposals actually weaken the hand of governments.

“There’s much less there than people are making an issue of, so there’s just no problem from our point of view,” Crocker said at the press conference.

“There are several degrees of separation between matters at ICANN and involvement with the Chinese government,” Crocker said. “[Wuzhen is] not controlled by the Chinese government and it’s intended to facilitate bringing in people from all over the world, it’s a matter of inclusion rather than exclusion.”

While Cruz asks quite a lot in his latest letter, one of the questions that leaped out at me claimed that ICANN does not publish the address of its Beijing office on its web site.

All the other local “Engagement Centers” have physical addresses listed, but not the Chinese one, Cruz said.

It turns out he’s correct.

I asked at the press conference why the address was not published on the ICANN web site and whether Cruz was correct to infer that ICANN is based in the same office as CNNIC, the government-controlled .cn ccTLD registry.

Chehade replied: “As I’m sure you’ve read in our press releases when we opened that office, that office was opened with a very clear press release by us and one by CNNIC indicating that our office would be collocated with CNNIC. So there’s nothing new here.”

He thanked Cruz for pointing out the omission on the ICANN web site and said it would be corrected.

He said that it’s ICANN’s habit to collocate engagement centers with local players, and that Beijing was nothing different. ICANN pays CNNIC for the collocation, he said.

Looking at the ICANN press release (pdf) announcing the Beijing office opening, back in 2013, it seems Chehade was incorrect, however. The press release makes no mention of CNNIC hosting the new ICANN engagement center. It does not mention CNNIC at all.

CNNIC did at the time state in its own press release, in a roundabout way, that ICANN Beijing would be sharing its office.

I also asked whether the outcome of the US presidential election would have a direct bearing on whether ICANN is able to execute the IANA transition. Would the transition happen if Cruz gets elected president of the USA in November?

Crocker gamely waffled for a couple of minutes but didn’t confirm what many take as a given: that Obama initiatives such as the IANA transition are likely to be at risk of a scuppering should a Republican, particularly Cruz, enters the White House.

“As an American I have to say this is one of the most interesting and unpredictable presidential election processes we’ve ever seen,” Crocker said, “but as chairman of the board of ICANN I hope it has no relationship at all to a process that was started in principle when ICANN was initiated in 1998.”

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Comments (8)

  1. John says:

    >”ludicrous Republican claim”

    Yes, calling it ludicrous makes it ludicrous, and calling it Rebublican makes it partisan and Republican, rather than something that transcends partisan politics in importance just as much as Net neutrality did if no more so.

    So when President Clinton recently came out against this transition too (though one may well wonder what he would say now), was that a “ludicrous Democrat claim”?

    Big gifts or small, in a world where the rich and the well off are the ones who usually cry poverty in life more loudly than the poor, no small hint or gesture of influence seeking there. And the emperor has cloths on at the party too.

    • John says:

      *clothes 🙂

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Clinton thinks China is going to take over the internets? I’d love to see that quote.

      • John says:

        What a perfectly ludicrous comment. If you want to try to make the big picture issue out to be about someone focusing on China alone, go ahead. No matter how you do it, that’s called a “straw man.” But you won’t be basing it on any reality you found in this world, either with Cruz or with Clinton when the latter expressed opposition to the “transition.”

  2. Has Steve made the faux pas of responding to the junior senator’s question in public here before he’s sent his response to his letter?

    I haven’t seen the response published yet, and I’m fascinated to see it.

  3. Richard Funden says:

    “There’s no money involved, so there’s no conflict of interest involved at all. This is a campaign by small people trying to tear down the very amazing first-class work that has been done. Senator Cruz is really not a very smart person. Just look at these report cards Fadi has gotten from the Chinese government. Ecellent! Excellent! Excellent in all areas!
    Believe me.”

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