Google in HK move to defeat censors
Google yesterday carried through on its promise to end censorship of its local Chinese search engine, bringing to a head the company's increasingly acrimonious confrontation with Beijing over its policing of the internet.
The US internet company has decided to redirect some search requests on its local Chinese service, google.cn, to its Hong Kong arm, which it said stood beyond the reach of Chinese censors.
“It's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China,” David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said in a blog post announcing the move.
“We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services.”
It was not immediately clear what steps China was planning to counter the change, which became effective in the middle of the night in Beijing.
Beijing could block access in China to both google's local and Hong Kong search sites, just as it blocks many foreign websites on the mainland.
Google's action comes four years after it first agreed to bow to Chinese censors in order to run a legal search service from inside the country. It promised in January to end the practice.
Despite Google's efforts to cast its talks with Chinese authorities in recent weeks as a negotiation over operating an uncensored service, it has been roundly rebuffed by Chinese officials.
As Google readied an uncensored service to offer to Chinese internet users in recent days, government officials in China have taken a tougher line against the company. Official news outlets have accused Google of acting as an agent of the US government in trying to put pressure on China.
Mr Drummond said the Chinese government “has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement.”
The announcement left a question hanging over the fate of google.cn, which will still handle less politically sensitive searches, as well as the fate of its 600-strong workforce in China and its remaining operations there.
“This is a way to keep our services in China – we are not pulling out of China,” a spokesman said. The company said it intended to continue its research and development arm in Beijing, which pre-dated google.cn, and to sell advertising to local Chinese advertisers for the Hong Kong service.
However, it said that the scale of the sales operation would depend partly on how many users in mainland China were able to access the site.