One year after Google's move: reflections on Internet governance

By Xu Peixi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 21, 2011
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"To he who has a hammer the world looks like a nail" – this proverb is reflected in the current state of Internet governance.

States like the U.S., France and China apparently share the same logic in their manipulation of Internet users. By playing good cop and bad cop in terms of Internet censorship, these countries have successfully diverted people's attention away from the democratic impulses of the Internet to express grievance against powerful state and corporate interests.

World leaders from the three countries have all recently defined their "positions" in terms of Internet freedom. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a well-known speech on Internet freedom in January 2010. China's State Council Information Office (SCIO) published its first white paper on China's Internet status in June 2010. Last month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted a key forum on the future of the Internet ahead of the G8 summit.

As always, the U.S. has played the freedom card. Historically it has supported freedom of the press and now it supports unrestricted Internet use. On the Internet issue, China has played the sovereignty card, as it has previously used on the question of human rights. The EU often dresses up as a coordinator between U.S. and China.

The business community, represented by Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, has added new dimension to political positioning in regards to Internet freedom. Seemingly tired of lobbying behind the scenes, Google openly challenged China by staging calculated withdrawals from the mainland, ultimately resulting in the relocation of Google China's search engine to Hong Kong. The move was branded as fulfillment of the company's "Don't Be Evil" slogan. However, Google failed to see the irony in happily serving the diplomatic interests of the U.S.

At a recent gathering, I entered into a confrontation with my closest friends about Google's withdrawal from China. One of my friends who is an avid Gmail and G-Chat user supported Google's move. I supported China's policy, and other friends in the room were forced to choose sides. At the time, I labeled my friend as part of the naïve group of supporters who laid flowers outside Google's Beijing offices. Likewise, he labeled me as brainwashed.

In the end, we both agreed that we were suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages feel sympathy toward their captors. I realized that China's previous honeymoon relationship with Google had earned it many loyal Chinese followers, despite Google's connection to U.S. political interests.

One year after the controversy, at the Sarkozy forum, we have witnessed a repetition of the same logic. We are inevitably invited to ask: Where are the voices of the people? Where are the interests of the users? To a large degree, users' interests have been brushed aside in essential matters regarding Internet governance. They are the real victims in the image battles of who is evil and who is not.

The ironic part is that, assisted by the media, people have been misled by these melodramatic controversies. Often they have been forced into taking sides in situations of the pot calling the kettle black. This calls for a multi-actor mechanism for media governance.

The author is an associate professor with the Communication University of China. He can be reached at

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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