China Ink

Seek and you shall not find

Google’s threat to pull out of China causes a blizzard of media commentary.

Why would Google abandon China?

Google is fed up with being attacked by cyber hackers, reports the Wall Street Journal, and may shut down Google.cn and the firm’s offices in China. This bombshell quickly stirred dramatic commentary. The New York Times thought that, if the search engine did pull the plug on its China business, it would be a highly unusual rebuke by one of the world’s most admired technology companies. China is on its way to becoming a “one-country intranet”, warned the Financial Times.

Xinhua conveys the impression that it had all come as a surprise to the government, which felt somewhat blindsided. It quotes a government official as saying “It is hard to say whether Google will quit China or not… nobody knows.”

Others thought they had more of the inside scoop. The Shanghai Daily reported that Google’s threat is not only down to its worries about hackers, but also the “perceived censorship” of its search engine.

A political dimension?

“We look to the Chinese government for an explanation,” said US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Google has stated that it no longer wants to censor the search results on Google.cn, a move that directly contravenes Chinese government policy. The FT wonders why Google has lost its “high tolerance for state meddling” but guesses that it has had its spine stiffened by some increasingly anti-censorship rhetoric from Washington.

The China Daily agrees that the Google threat is a “pressure tactic” designed to force the government to change its policies towards the internet. The 21CN Business Herald notes that Google HQ has become increasingly aggrieved by its treatment in China. It was slammed by the government last year for allowing users to search for porn and the hack attack may have been the last straw for a management already uncomfortable with sacrificing its policy of “openness” for the sake of operating in China.

If Google goes, who is the real loser?

For the South China Morning Post, Beijing would show “no stomach” for unfiltered internet searches and was “unlikely” to agree to allow Google to escape its censorship. “No one expects Beijing to brook web defiance,” it warned.

Various newspapers speculated on the impact of a withdrawal from the world’s most populous country. Investors were spooked: Google’s share price fell 2.4% when trading opened.

If it does pull out, around 700 Google staffers will lose their jobs in China. The Financial Times reports the country’s internet users are upset too: “Several people laid flowers and wreaths outside Google’s offices in Beijing.”

Hu Yanping, director of the Data Centre of China Internet (DCCI), told the Global Times that he had predicted Google’s exit three months ago. Local search engine Baidu (see WiC42) controls 63.1% of China’s search market, dwarfing the normally dominant Google.“The Chinese government’s control and supervision is not necessarily the reason leading to its decision to withdraw. The main reason is its unsuccessful business operation,” Hu claimed. Still, Tang Jun, the former China head of Microsoft told the 21CN Business Herald that exiting China could be “the most stupid decision in history”. Baidu is likely to be the big winner, with a monopoly over the searches of China’s 360 million web users.


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