Google.cn moves to HK, guess it wasn’t just about the money

14 Comments
Distractions

Google HKIf you’ve somehow missed the news, Google.cn has officially exited China, sort of. Instead of pulling out of the country completely, they’ve moved the search division of their business to Hong Kong, which is free of the political censorship rules that the Mainland’s internet is subject to.

Now when visiting google.cn, visitors are automatically redirected to Google.com.hk, which now features Simplified Chinese options and search abilities (perhaps it always did?). And while search results are no longer self-censored by the search company, they are now subject to the daft diligence of the Great Firewall of China. Searching for terms deemed too sensitive for your own good will return the “connection has been reset” error that we’ve all come to love.

When Google first made the announcement that they were considering dumping China, there was a lot of conjecture that the company was playing up the “we don’t want to censor our search results for the good of the people” angle in an effort to quietly leave a market that they weren’t dominating. It appears to me that by moving to Hong Kong they are illustrating that supplying China with a non-censoredBaidu Chinese alternative is still a priority of the company, and perhaps this was more about Google not “doing evil” than people first gave them credit for.

Unsurprisingly, officials weren’t short on words regarding Google’s actions. As Reuters reported, an unnamed official from China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) said:

“Foreign companies operating in China must abide by Chinese laws. Google has violated the written promise it made on entering the Chinese market. It is totally wrong in halting (censorship) filtering of its search provider and also making aspersions and accusations towards China about hacking attacks. We firmly oppose politicising commercial issues, and express our dissatisfaction and anger at Google Inc’s unreasonable accusations and practices.”

“After repeated requests from Google, and to hear its real views face-to-face and demonstrate China’s sincerity, on January 29 and February 25 of this year responsible officials from China’s relevant authorities held talks with Google, and offered patient and detailed explanations about the issues raised.”

“They stressed that foreign companies in China should abide by Chinese laws, and if Google is willing to abide by Chinese laws, we continue to welcome it operating and developing in China. If Google insists on dismantling the search service of its Chinese website, that is Google’s own affair. But it must follow Chinese law and international custom, and responsibly handle the aftermath.”

“The Chinese government encourages the development and spread of the Internet, and promotes the opening of the Internet to the outside (world). Discussion and expression on China’s Internet are very lively, and digital commerce is developing rapidly. The facts demonstrate that China has a healthy environment for investing in and developing the Internet. China will unwaveringly adhere to a guiding policy of opening up, and it welcomes participation by foreign businesses in developing the Chinese Internet.”

The thing that concerns me most about the whole situation is the way that the (state-controlled) media so effectively crafts a narrative that suits the average citizen’s view of national pride vs. Western bias. And while I’m hopeful that smarter opinions will prevail (gTranslation), it’s not something we’ve seen much of in China.

Rebecca MacKinnon breaks it down into the Chinese government having two possible routes of response:

  1. Block Google.com.hk, and risk drawing more attention both from non-Chinese media, as well as making more and more Mainlanders aware of the censorship practices.
  2. Allow Google to continue with the rest of their lawful in-China operations (ad sales, etc.) and declare a victory in getting the non-censored search out of the country.

How it plays out is too unpredictable for this lowly blogger to guess, but there’s no question that Google’s move to Hong Kong was certainly the wildcard shakeup that most of us were hoping for. It’s not open defiance and not full retreat. Good on Google for taking a very Chinese method of solving the problem and finding a middle way.

I look forward to your thoughts below. Also, for a bit of a primer on the situation, check out Andrew Lih’s post.

Talk on Google.cn moves to HK, guess it wasn’t just about the money


14 Comments
  1. how does the Party think that China will really continue to develop if it keeps regressing like this? market economy and authoritarianism cannot go hand in hand. most economy and political scholars assert now that, with the Chinese average per capita approaching $2000, democracy, or systems approaching democracy, are very likely to emerge, or at least pop their heads up the way they did in ’89. free media and free speech are part and parcel of that. this burgeoning system cannot and will not survive, much less flourish, without free access to media.

    that whole BS statement basically says, “google won’t censor itself, and we won’t allow google to operate without censors. however, we have a very censor-free open internet.” what? did you guys read that completely contradictory pile of propaganda and outright lies before you printed it? will Chinese people actually READ it before eating it up and programming it into memory so they can spit that dogma out?

    I read an article recently speculating whether or not China will dominate science in years to come. with behavior like this, not a chance. and I like that China keeps pointing out that google is violating Chinese law. what about the Chinese government violating international laws and borders? oh wait, that’s okay, because China is special. does the Party really think that foreign businesses will come here if they continue demonstrating such awful behavior?

    damnit, I miss google already. they even scrambled blackle, those sneaky bastards. I wonder if this is a silly question, but will this disrupt my gmail?

      • Thanks for the editing, Ryan. I had just returned from 4 hours of teaching, a long weightlifting session, and a huge lunch. Making everything look nice and neat really was the last thing on my mind before I collapsed into bed. It’s also possible that I went off on a bit of a rant, but the issue of free speech always gets me fired up. It’s one of the things I love about the US; despite quite a few misfires.
        I’m going to quote Renquist on this one: “At the heart of the first amendment is the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas. Freedom to speak one’s own mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty, but essential to the quest for truth, and the vitality of society as a whole. In the world of debate about public affairs, many things done with motives that are less than admirable are nonetheless protected by the first amendment.”

  2. So bascially “we’ll downsize and redirect the under performing search function to google HK but the direct revenue generating divisions of adsense, etc will remain as it is in China.”

    Corporate America as it always was and ever will be!

    • Profile photo of

      I don’t think that’s corporate America, I think that’s standard business sense. Despite being in China, Google’s not exactly a State-sponsored make-work program.

      But this isn’t about corporate America, there’s nothing intrinsically “American” about Google, they are simply an American company. They could be Canadian, Australian, Belgian, whatever…

      It’s about moving to a country (or “region”) that has reasonable laws that allow your business to operate. Search isn’t the only thing that isn’t allowed in the country — video sharing, blogging, most image searches (even safe ones), often Google Docs, Google Groups and the list runs on.

      I always get confused with the “under performing” thing too… I’ve heard figures from 15% to 35% for Google’s market share. Even at 10%, that’s about 40 million users. That doesn’t sound “under performing” to me. It’s not Baidu, but then, it’s not giving away pirated music and video to keep customers.

    • I like the deflection approach–forget what China is doing, let’s shift the focus to the US. what a great scapegoat. ignore China, they’re just victims in everything. if they create any problems, forget it, because the US responsible for all corruption in the world. right?

  3. China has a long history of combining self-censorship with government censorship. Look back for examples during the Cultural Revolution where this was very successfully used to retain power and remove rivals. There is no historical precedent that China would change just because today propaganda is fought on an electronic battleground and worldwide. China will not change such an effective strategy.

    What was impressive was that Google had the courage to stick to their principles and withdraw their censored search engine from China. Kudos to Google. Credibility has been earned.

    It would look irresponsible for Chinese censors to allow netizens to look for and find search results, but block their original content. This would blatantly show that netizens are not equal to others in the world, and thus a loss of face. China will eventually block google.com.hk.

    • Profile photo of

      As with most every Sinosphere blogger, I’ve resigned myself to the inevitability that one day all sites save China Daily shall be purged from the Chinese Internet. The past year or so has seen some of the greats fall to the GFW (Peking Duck, Danwei to name two), should our turn ever come, so be it.

      As it stands, the current Internet situation here has made it so that you can’t really be a foreigner in China and not have a way around the GFW.

      • Ryan, getting blocked in China is sort of like a badge of honour for a blog isnt it…..

        to be honest I’m kind of glad I dont have instant access to facebook and twitter – which lets face it both are time vampires and in the end dont really add quality to my life at least (why is it people who you have never met want to be your friend?)

        Blocking yuotube is a bit of a disappointment

        Now if they could only block linked-in…

  4. Pingback: Don Tai (Canada) Blog » Blog Archive » Google Search Engine Exits China

  5. Profile photo of

    And so it begins.

    “Google thinks it’s important,” says Re Dai Yu on QQ.com. “It shouldn’t forget Hong Kong is still China. [Google] should just disappear from the Chinese territory.”

    “It’s just a mal-intended website and it’s better to be gone,” agrees QZQ from Beijing.

    “It can go,” says netizen Tuifei Yangxuzhong from Shanghai. “It’s nothing. I never use Google anyways.”

    Lei Da, from Hengyang also comments, “I only use Baidu; I never use Google.cn, so it doesn’t matter to me if Google left.”

    Apart from not gaining the market share it hoped for in China, Google’s recent move roused some of the less positive sides of Chinese online nationalism.“Google has insulted China, thus it has insulted a billion Chinese people,” says Netizen Feng Zhi Yi from Quanzhou. “Perhaps Google was sent by the the United States to damage the union of Chinese people.”

    From: Chinese netizens say good-bye to Google.cn | CNNGo.com

    China, sometimes you just know how to kick a guy in the gonads and make him cry.

    • That’s hilarious… did they forget that Baidu and all the other half-assed search engines are merely a copy of Google? I had an argument with my girlfriend’s idiot roommates last night that descended into them just outright attacking the US and insisting that the US censors everything too. I thought this was rather funny. I guess the Party won with them, I mean they’re pretty ignorant, exactly what the Party wants. ignorant is easy to manipulate.
      Also, I’m not sure how google is “mal-intended”. it’s just everything that’s on the internet. Literally. They don’t create anything, they just show what’s already out there. If anything, it’s the people who are trying to hide the truth who are mal-intended, the old rich men who don’t want the populace to find out how corrupt their government is and that this big, stable hegemon is really a fairy tale. The powers that be can’t keep a lid on this thing forever.

  6. Just came back to China after living in Canada for 10 years. There has been so much that has changed since 2000 the time I left here. Maybe 10 years in Canada has made me think differently or dumb but its surely hard for me to understand why theres even limited freedom over the internet here in China, not to mention about all the other things that I am learning everyday. I do talk to my friends back in Canada and they found that hard to understand youtube and facebook are blocked by the Chinese government. Maybe China is developing so fast but yet there are so many things different in here. I do hope things will get better in here. And now I need to find a VPN etc to get back to the sites I normally would visit.

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