Google vs China: to leave or not to leave
When pondering his next course of action in the third act of Macbeth, our anti-hero reasons that he was “in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er”.
There seems to be a similar rationale behind Google's threats on Tuesday to refer its spat with Chinese authorities to the World Trade Organisation. Such a move might have a cold, consistent logic. In 2006, when it established a censorship-compliant Google.cn site, the company implored US government departments to make censorship a “central element” of bilateral and multilateral trade agendas. And judging by a series of helpfully-timed pronouncements on internet freedom from the Obama administration, the company enjoys some high-level support.
But like many of Macbeth's actions in the latter half of the play, escalation to the WTO could be both bloody-minded and counter-productive. Any case based on discrimination would be unlikely to succeed, given that Chinese firms are typically subject to more rigorous control than non-Chinese. Besides, during a copyright action brought by the US against China that culminated last year, the WTO confirmed that censorship violated none of its rules. A similar verdict here would entrench China's regime, rather than threaten it.
If Google's original aim was to force an admission of culpability, shake hands and move on, it has failed. Management may now consider that it has reached the point where following through would be less trouble than turning back. As Gavekal, a research boutique, has pointed out, a continued compromised presence in China could pose a risk to the greater profits Google stands to gain through ventures such as cloud computing, where growth depends on the absolute trust of consumers. Finally, if Google really is heading for the exits, it may be smart to cause as much trouble as it can for competitors that remain.
谷 歌(Google)的思路似乎与此类似。该公司在本周二威胁要把自己与中国当局的纠纷告到世贸组织(WTO)。这样的举动也许具有一种冷静、一致的逻辑。 2006年，当谷歌开通遵守中国审查制度的Google.cn网站时，该公司恳请美国政府部门将审查列为双边及多边贸易议程的“中心元素”。从奥巴马 (Obama)政府在关键时刻就互联网自由发表的一系列讲话来看，该公司得到了一些来自高层的支持。
但是，就像《麦克白》下半部主人公的许 多行动一样，让问题升级，把纠纷告到世贸组织，可能是卤莽和事与愿违的。以受歧视为由的任何申诉，都不太可能成功，因为中国公司通常要受到比海外公司更为 严格的控制。况且，在美国对中国提起的一宗版权申诉（去年做出最终裁决）中，世贸组织已经确认，审查并未违反任何WTO规定。若谷歌提起的申诉得到类似的 裁决，将令中国的制度更加根深蒂固，而非使其受到威胁。
如果谷歌的初衷是迫使对方承认错误，然后双方握手言和，让事件告一段落，那么该公司 已经失败。谷歌管理层也许现在认为，公司已走到这一步，继续推进的麻烦将少于走回头路。正如小型研究机构Gavekal所指出的，在中国继续勉强开展业 务，可能对谷歌有望从云计算之类项目中获得的更大利润构成风险。在这些项目中，增长取决于消费者的绝对信任。最后，如果谷歌真的打算退出中国，那么给留在 中国的竞争对手制造尽可能多的麻烦，也许是明智之举。