Welcome back to Fact or Fiction. In case you missed it last time, it is an (ir)regular feature here on Lost Laowai. Every edition I will have a guest and we will discuss a few of the big issues in China of the day. Every answer will have a “Fact” or a “Fiction” and some justification to go along with it.
Today, like much of the blogosphere we will be talking about the Google vs. GFW debate. Which makes my guest, Steven, the perfect counterpart. The current resident of Suzhou, writes here at Lost Laowai and most of his posts have a technological theme. He is also the sole China blogger for CNET Asia with his blog Sinobytes.
So without further ado, let’s get down to Fact or Fiction 2: Electric Googaloo!!!
1. If Google does leave China, more companies will follow them
Doing business in China has been seen in recent years as a necessary evil to compete on a global scale. As such a number of corporations have had to make certain sacrifices in order to make that happen. However, here we see a large company flat out saying no. In business, one of the sure fire ways to profit is to simply do whatever profitable people are doing. Google is one of the most profitable companies on the planet, and surely other companies will join them in their protests against the Great Firewall. Whether they are motivated by altruism or profit is another debate.
Google was always going to be in the tightest spot when operating in China: a new media company whose motto is ‘Don’t be evil’ doing business in a country where free-flowing information is seen as an ‘evil’ threat to national stability. And although I’m not convinced that Google’s motives are genuinely pushing forward a freer environment for search and new media (what’s Google China’s $300mil out of Google Inc.’s $22 billion annual revenue), I’m convinced that no other companies will follow Google, if Google China is indeed shuttered. There are already some significant concerns for companies coming to operate in China: getting ripped off in your joint-venture, lack of intellectual property protection, internal spying, corruption, and the general ‘brown envelope’ culture of doing business – those same, wider issues will remain whether Google leaves or not.
0 for 1 to start. Funny considering just how jaded both of our answers were.
2. James Fallows was right, this is China’s Bush-Cheney era
Let’s see: flexing their muscle on the international scene. Check. Limiting the rights of their citizens while trumpeting freedom. Check. Upsetting the world in the process. Check. A large loyal following of people whose most intelligent answer to criticism is “If you don’t like it just leave”. You better believe that’s a check. We’re just some electoral fraud and a housing collapse away from being able to yell “BINGO!”
The amount of civil liberties that the Bush-Cheney era infringed – most grossly: wire-tapping their own law-abiding citizens, one illegal war, and one Geneva convention-defying detainee camp – means that you’d have to be a tin-pot dictator to come close to the Cowboy/Face-shooter duo. More accurately, China has new found confidence backed up by wealth – a few trillion of it being US dollars – so the authorities are getting into the swing of throwing their weight around a bit, but nothing more.
0 for 2! I would be mad except “Cowboy/Face-shooter duo” is too awesome of a summary for the diabolical duo to be mad at.
3. Google will end up investing in a Chinese web start up if they do leave
I think that their dealings with the Chinese will be heavily scrutinized after this, and any investment in some Chinese web company would be seen as “being evil” and bad for their corporate image. As much as the cynic in me thinks that’s what they will do, the other side of me thinks that it won’t happen.
China may be a small piece of the pie right now for Google, in terms of desktop and mobile searches, and ad revenue, but that can only grow in future – especially mobile ad revenue, a market that’s only now kicking off in China. Perhaps investing in a few start-ups here across those three key sectors – social networking might be best avoided – might be the best/only way for Google to keep their thumb in the pie, without their name being plastered all over the product.
Still in disagreement 0 for 3. Time to switch!
4. The WTO will investigate the Great Firewall as a trade barrier
Oh, I do hope so. But, really, think about the YouTube blockage as being a tariff on steel, beef, or tyres (sorry, ‘tires’), then you’ll realise that the WTO and world governments have been curiously quiet about Net Nanny stamping on so many foreign websites here. If you add up all of the lost revenue of Facebook, Youtube, and Google’s various web apps, it surely amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars. And, to be frank, WTO intervention is our only hope of the Great Firewall being trimmed down. But don’t expect it to be knocked down.
As much as I would love to see this happen, I just don’t see it in the cards. If the WTO plays hardball with China, what will happen next? Will China just leave the WTO? Then who would that hurt more? A Trade Organization that doesn’t have the world’s largest exporter is about as legitimate as an emissions agreement without the world’s largest polluter (see: Protocol, The Kyoto). Sadly, I think that we are reaching a point where the WTO may need China more than the other way around.
Interesting points of view on this one, I’d be interested in what those of you in comment land have to say. 0 for 4 though still.
5. Google knew what they were getting into when they opened an office in China, and does not deserve sympathy.
I’m a huge admirer of Google in general, and a big user of their web apps, but on this issue I can only say: If you jump into the lion enclosure, don’t be surprised when you get bitten on the ass.
I couldn’t agree more my friend. They knew the Chinese laws before they opened up their offices here. While I wish that things were turning out differently for them, it’s hard to really see a shock here. If you play with fire you will get burned, if you play with China you will be censored.
And we finally have some agreement! I guess nobody has Sympathy for The Devil Google. 1 for 5.
6. The internet situation is the biggest drawback of living in China
People? Awesome. Food? Gorgeous. Culture? Fascinating. The internet here? Don’t even get me started… Well, to avoid all the swearing and a raising of one’s blood pressure, a VPN is as essential as a visa now. It may double the cost of getting online, but it’s better to have the full internet than the sad, messed-up, Net Nanny-approved intranet that exists since last summer.
I was all set to answer fact on this one, but then I remembered something that is, for the time being, worse. The availability of health care. While I have thankfully never been to the hospital here, I have heard some horror stories of people who have. I know that this is getting better all the time, while the censorship seems to be getting worse, but for the time being I’d put the GFW in a close second on this undesirable list.
And that concludes it. 1 for 6.
So as always, we’ve got to turn it back to all of you out there. Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?