Google threatens to pull out: what's the deal?

By Jin Canrong
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, January 22, 2010
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Google is the biggest and most famous internet company in the world. Its business model has brought it huge success in the global market. This makes its threat to exit the Chinese market all the more baffling. The world's most popular search engine has put forward a clearly political demand, something which is normally avoided by large commercial companies.

Google posted its threat to pull out of China on its blog on January 13. Its action was lauded by western media, who quickly spotted an opportunity to criticize China. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton used the opportunity to lecture the Chinese government, and a few members of Congress made even harsher criticisms. Google is in the eye of the storm and its role is obviously changing.

In its blog post, Google complained about hacker attacks on its servers but went on to demand China lift "censorship of the Internet". In effect Google transformed a routine internet security incident into an excuse to demand that the Chinese government changes the law. That is quite a stretch.

Was Google's move motivated by commercial or political considerations? If the former, then Google should treat it as a business matter and solve it through normal business channels. But the nature and scope of the affair will be completely altered if Google tries to use it to play politics in China and influence the country's social reform process.

There has been considerable debate over China's internet management and supervision system. But even if we accept that change may be necessary, the country's current social situation needs to be taken into account.

Chinese society has been gradually opening up and this process has been accelerated by the development of the Internet. China is moving in the direction of openness. But opening-up is a process that cannot be accomplished in one move. How far to open up, and at what pace, should be determined by the Chinese. Others' opinions are just references. Even Google, the richest and technically most advanced Internet company would be guilty of arrogance if it were to assume it can influence this process.

Google has been operating in China for more than three years, but has failed to acquaint itself with China's history and reality. China is a sovereign state, not a 19th century-style colonial concession. Foreign companies no longer have extraterritorial status in this country. Any foreign company that thinks it is above Chinese law will find it has utterly misread China. The Chinese welcome constructive criticism and well-meaning suggestions from western countries and multinational companies. But politically motivated initiatives and backdoor efforts to coerce China will never work.

If Google persists in its demand for China to cancel Internet censorship, it will inevitably fail, as predicted in an article on US website Mashable. It is absolutely out of the question that China will change its policy so as to give its citizens unlimited access to reactionary and obscene content.

China's growth and development have attracted a fair share of criticism and condemnation from some quarters in the west. So Google's barbs were, of themselves, of little concern. But the fact that the western media immediately took Google's side should put the Chinese people on their guard.

Britain's Guardian newspaper predicted that "if Google wants to have a showdown, the Internet world will be split". China does not want to see this kind of disruption. But on the other hand, China is not afraid of trouble, nor is it frightened by such predictions. The Chinese people will stand together in the face of Google's threat.

Millions of Chinese people use Google's online search service. And some of them may see their online experience temporarily disrupted by Google's exit. Therefore, we welcome Google to stay, but only as long as it adjusts and adapts itself to Chinese laws. And if, in the end, Google insist on pulling out, it will not be such a big deal for the Chinese. Google will simply be cutting itself off from the Chinese market.

The author is Deputy Dean of the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China.

(The article was translated by Yan Pei.)


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