Stance by China to Limit Google Is Risk by Beijing
BEIJING — This is a nation that builds dams, high-speed rail lines and skyscrapers with abandon. In newly muscular China, sheer force is not just an art, but a bedrock principle of its seemingly unstoppable rise to global prominence.
Google Faces Fallout as China Reacts to Site Shift (March 24, 2010)
China’s Booming Internet Giants May Be Stuck There (March 24, 2010)
Times Topics: Google Inc. | China
Now China has tightened its grip on the much more variegated world of online information, effectively forcing Google Inc., the world’s premier information provider, to choose between submitting to Chinese censorship and leaving the world’s largest community of Internet users to its rivals. It chose to leave.
Google’s decision may not cause major problems for China right away, experts said. But in the longer run, they said, China’s intransigent stance on filtering the flow of information within its borders has the potential to weaken its links to the global economy.
It may also sully its image — promoted to its own people as well as to the international community — as an authoritarian country that is economically on the move, perhaps even more so than the sclerotic, democratic West.
“The Chinese are very serious about pushing their soft-power agenda,” Bill Bishop, a Beijing Internet entrepreneur and author of the technology blog Digicha, said Tuesday. “Google just put a big hole in that sales pitch, and I think they know that.”
China’s leaders appear fully aware of their dilemma. But at this stage in China’s history, and given the Communist Party’s determination to maintain absolute rule, they still put political control ahead of all other concerns.
“What does Google’s exit say? What it says publicly is what everyone deeply engaged in China knows privately,” Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a Brookings Institution scholar and former Clinton administration adviser on China, said in an interview.
“This is a system with very substantial domestic imperfections,” Mr. Lieberthal said. “And the view from afar that this is simply an unstoppable juggernaut — that they have found the keys to the magic kingdom — is not correct. China’s leaders understand this as well as anyone.”
The conclusion of Google’s four-year Internet experiment in China — an effort to transplant Western free-speech norms here — was anything but smooth. On Monday, it effectively shut down the search engine it hosted inside China, after declaring in January that it would stop cooperating with Chinese censors.
As Google began redirecting tens of millions of mainland Chinese users early Tuesday, Beijing time, to its Hong Kong-based Web site, google.com.hk, parts of the company’s remaining mainland operations quickly came under pressure from Google’s Chinese partners and from the government itself.
China’s biggest cellular communications company, China Mobile, was widely expected to cancel a deal that had placed Google’s search engine on its mobile Internet home page, used by millions of people daily. One official in China’s media industry said that the company was scrapping the deal under government pressure even though it had no replacement lined up.
Censorship, of course, is not new in China. The government has never released its grip on the information industry, and if anything has steadily tightened supervision of the Chinese Web in the past couple of years. Those restrictions have not noticeably inhibited its economic growth, which remained robust even as the West staggered through its worst recession in decades.
But China also does not acknowledge to its own people that it censors the Internet to exclude a wide range of political and social topics that its leaders believe could lead to instability. It does not release information on the number of censors it employs or the technology it uses for the world’s most sophisticated Internet firewall. Its 350 million Internet users, many with fast broadband connections, are assured they have the same effectively limitless access to information and communications that the rest of the world enjoys.
Google publicly challenged that stance in January, and reinforced its ideological opposition to China’s policies by finally pulling the plug on its mainland search engine after a failed round of talks with Chinese officials. That forced Chinese leaders to defend their control of the Web, which they did partly with an outburst of nationalism and vitriol.
The cost, at least with some influential sectors of its own society, could be steep. In the technology sector, Google is viewed as an innovator that has spurred rapid development of the Chinese Web. Its departure will leave some Chinese companies with greater influence, but could also stifle competition, some fear.
"Google is good at innovation, and when it leaves, the rest of the companies in China will lack motivation. Without its countervailing power, the industry won’t be as healthy,” said Zhang Yunquan, a professor at the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Fang Xingdong, chief executive of Chinalabs.com, said the vast majority of Chinese Internet companies invested little in research and “simply copy each other’s technology.” With Google’s departure, their profits may rise, but China’s Web space will begin to stagnate, he predicted.
Despite China’s mantra that the Google issue should not be “politicized,” it is, at the end of the day, highly politicized, especially inside China.
Xiao Qiang, founder and editor in chief of China Digital Times, said that China’s leaders once saw the Internet as having both political and commercial uses that balanced each other to a degree. “But increasingly they see it as a political space,” he said.
The implication of that thinking, post-Google, is that companies that want to be major players on the Chinese Web will have to prove their political fealty to the leadership, much as traditional media companies do. “Chinese companies have to be collaborators,” Mr. Xiao said.
One Western official in China said that the leadership is now treating the Internet as a “core interest,” an issue of sovereignty on which Beijing will brook no intervention. The most commonly cited core interests are Taiwan and Tibet, the third-rail issues in China’s international diplomacy.
That could make it even harder for China to negotiate Internet freedom issues with the United States and other nations. In fact, even among those who argue that China will do just fine without Google, China’s battle with the Internet giant is seen as a proxy for its broader confrontation with the West over rights, trade, climate change, and declining American hegemony.
“I believe Google got some support from the U.S. government,” said Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University. “This means the American government will adopt a tougher, more aggressive policy toward China.”
中国 | 2010.03.23
中国国务院新闻办公室网络局在Google公司宣布停止对Google.cn的搜索结果进行过滤审查，并将搜索服务由中国内地转至香港这一 结果之后迅速做出反应。一位负责人指出，外国公司在中国经营必须遵守中国法律。他指责说，"谷歌公司违背进入中国市场时作出的书面承诺，停止对搜索服务进 行过滤，并就黑客攻击影射和指责中国，这是完全错误的。我们坚决反对将商业问题政治化，对谷歌公司的无理指责和做法表示不满和愤慨"。
中国博客作者，"中文网志年会"组织者之一毛向辉（Isaac Mao）也持有相类似的看法。他说，谷歌事件对谷歌公司构成负面影响已经是一个既成事实。现在的问题只是负面影响大和小的区别。毛向辉说："说 Google把业务迁移到香港去是比较聪明的一点的一个原因就是,它(Google)能够把对商业上的影响降到最小。包括广告业务今后在中国还要销售的 话，对于本地的商业合作伙伴更容易理解可以从香港公司得到支持，可以降低大家沮丧或者是失望的情绪。"
Google公司在正式宣布停止对Google.cn的搜索结果进行过滤审查，并将搜索服务由中国内地转至香港的消息之前几天，中国官方媒体连续发 表态度甚为强硬的文章，称"谷歌事件"是"一场闹剧"，谷歌"露出政治脸孔"。毛向辉分析说："我觉得对中国来讲最大的悖论就在于，一个公司在中国是可以 做生意的，同时又听他（政府）的话。这一点没能做到，所以才非常的尴尬和恼火。"
而中国博客作者，"中文网志年会"组织者之一毛向辉的看法却不尽相同。他认为，从短期来看是一个双输的结果，但是从长期来看，他仍然觉得还是 google占了一个上风。毛向辉说："因为有几个趋势非常明显。第一，官方已经发动很大力量做宣传攻势，认为谷歌是政治考量，或者说是外国势力支持对中 国政府进行批评等等。但是这个攻势你能想象他持续超过一个月吗？不可能的，这种事情不可能天天去提起。过了一两个月之后，Google会有一个非常强的心 理优势。因为这个事会永远被当成一个话题。一个全球成功的公司，一个互联网创新的公司，怎样在中国不恰当不合法不明示的审查制度之下无法生存。任何人永远 都可以提及，作为一个证据，说明中国的投资环境和政治环境不好的地方。另外，从用户角度来说，大部分人会去学翻墙的技巧。因为无论从科研、商业公司、普通 用户包括娱乐信息还有和全球的沟通都会受到影响。这个影响会慢慢浮现出来，变得表面化。"
今年1月，Google公司做出考虑在必要的情况下退出中国市场的声明之后，不少人以为Google公司至少在搜索引擎这部分业务会采取全身而退的 策略。所以此次正式宣布撤至香港的做法，在一些人看并不算是华丽丽的转身。但是毛向辉认为："从商业公司来讲，我觉得赚钱没有任何错误。也并不是说谷歌就 违反了原先的承诺。因为它说的就是审查制度和搜索引擎之间的关系。中国有自由思想的网民都非常支持谷歌的这个决定。因为谷歌没有留下尾巴让大家指责。而且 谷歌的这种做法也给中国政府保留了一些面子。现在双方的交锋点已经没有了，可能对这个事情的平息会有帮助。"