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Henry Thornton - Politics: A discussion of economic, social and political issues Google and China - Skirmish Over? Date 29/01/2010
Member rating 4.1/5
The sound of compromise, or pragmatism, gets louder.
By Graeme Mills and Henry Thornton Email / Print

  Courtesy The Economist

Clinton on Giggle/Google, 29/1.

'The United States and China have agreed to keep talking about their spat over Google, following "a very open and candid conversation" on the sidelines of an international conference on Afghanistan'.

Google searches for lock on China, 20/1.
 Asia Times Online's Sherman So writes: 'Even Microsoft's chief executive officer, Steve Ballmer, could make little sense of Google's stance. "There are attacks every day. I don't think there was anything unusual, so I don't understand.”'
'Is it possible that with hard evidence of a hacker attack and its source, Google believed it had leverage to gain better cooperation from the Chinese government in its goal of removing censorship from search results in China?'
'That appears a fruitless dream. As Chinese online users approach 30% of its total population, government censorship on the Internet is becoming ever harsher. Even with self-imposed censorship, Google.cn still upsets the Chinese government from time to time. State-owned China Central Television, in a news program last month, accused Google of providing links to obscene content (this charge was not limited to Google, with some Chinese search engines, Baidu and Sohu's Sogou, also being named.) ...
'No matter what happens in China, a prize Google has already won in this chess game is the heart of its global audience, especially in its home country, the US. (Microsoft's Ballmer made it clear that his company had no intention of pulling back from its involvement in China.) The positive publicity generated from the incident can help to secure Google's position as the number one search engine in the world.'
'It has also attracted broader attention from the general Chinese public to its presence, its search ability, and to its other Internet tools, at a time when it is preparing to introduce its Android free mobile-phone software to the world, where it will compete with the likes of Apple's iPhone and Nokia, and in China with numerous other local brands.'

From The Age today, 'Google says business as usual in China' , 19/1 

'The Google announcement captured the attention of China's 384 million netizens, the world's largest internet market by users, with blogs and local media quoting unnamed insiders as saying Google has already decided to close its offices in China.'
'Google has denied that, saying the company is still in the process of scanning its internal networks since the cyber-attack in mid-December. Google also said it would hold talks with the Chinese government over the next few weeks.'
The Wall Street Journal cleared up some of the errors that appeared along the way, 'Clearing Up Confusion on Google and China'  

'From Silicon Valley to Zhongguancun, Google’s surprise announcement that it may pull out of China has fueled an enormous amount of discussion in recent days, not all of it 100% accurate. Below are some misstatements and misunderstandings we’ve seen:'
'Google says that these intrusions were not part of the larger, sophisticated attack on its security infrastructure, but likely the result of more pedestrian phishing scams or malware.'
'On Friday, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Yao Jian said that neither MOC nor the Beijing Municipal Commission of Commerce had received any information from Google about a planned withdrawal of its investment. A person close to Google also denied rumors that Google employees in China have ceased to report for work.'
'Before Google introduced its China-specific search engine, Google.cn, in 2006, its global site Google.com was subject to periodic blocking in China. But for the last four years, Google.com has been almost always accessible to users in China.'
Of interest were two articles:
The first was where Google was prepared to censor content on the internet in Australia. Although I totally agree with the action, it is still censorship. It purports to be based on moral (Antigone) and legal (Creon) grounds, 'Google agrees to take down racist site' – In Australia.
The second is where China points out it is facing a similar issue in Africa where it must abide by African domestic law if it wants to operate there, 'Google in China Is Like China in Africa?'

The resolution or death of this debate will be interesting. The following is a running debate on the issue hosted by the New York Times. 'Can Google Beat China?'   

It consists of several opinion pieces by experts (none resident Chinese as far as I can tell) and a comment section which is open to an international readership. The debate is heavily in favour of Google. Though, as it is hosted by the New York Times and the contributors are around 99% 'western' that is perhaps not surprising. I tend to favour the view that for the majority, around 99%, of Chinese, this debate is a non-issue. Bear in mind that 1% of 14 billion is a hell of a lot of people. So, it is not hard to find a dissenting voice(s) in China. The question is, in the short term, will this issue, which effects mainly the well educated university students in China, be taken up or wither on the vine?
For me, the interesting point is that it is the educated youth who will eventually determine the long term outcome of this debate, Antigone v Creon, when they reach power. It will be one of the issues China has to face in the 21st century as it takes its place as a dominant power and has to interact with countries and powerful companies with different views to it.

Henry's favourite newspaper, The Economist, calls its article 'Flowers for a funeral'.

'In Silicon Valley, its home, Google’s change of tack in China was widely applauded. But some were asking whether it was “more about business than thwarting evil” to quote TechCrunch, a widely read website. Besides pointing to Google’s failure to eat into Baidu’s market share, cynics noted that, whereas, according to Mr Drummond, Google’s revenues in China are “truly immaterial”, its costs are not. It employs about 700 people in China, some of them royally paid engineers, who may now have to look for other jobs. Hacker attacks and censorship, critics say, are convenient excuses for something Google wanted to do anyway, without appearing to be retreating commercially. Google strongly rejects this interpretation.

'In China, however, the government is clearly fearful that the company’s public stand against censorship will be celebrated by many Chinese internet-users. Chinese news accounts of the company’s decision failed to mention the reason for Google’s actions. Chinese web portals buried the story. Many internet-users in China have become adept at finding ways of circumventing China’s blocks on overseas websites, including the installation of “virtual private network” software. Numerous tributes to Google that rapidly appeared on Chinese internet discussion forums, and flowers laid outside Google’s office in Beijing, showed that the attempts at censorship had failed. Few, however, believe the company’s announcement will dissuade China from keeping on trying'.

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