Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Continuing to Take a Virtual Stand

The chess game between Google and the Chinese government continues with the search engine giant making its latest move, saying it isn't pulling out of the country, but its URL google.cn suspended and so users are directed to google.com.hk.

Despite Google saying that its search results weren't filtered, they may all be listed, but when you try to click on them, as it says, "This page not found". That's because the Chinese government is still actively censoring the results. So basically Google is back where it was before.

This morning the Xinhua News Agency accused Google of politicizing the issue -- censorship -- and reiterated that if Google wanted to continue doing business in China it had to follow Chinese law.

In an editorial called "Google Don't Politicize Yourself", it says that China has continued its reform and opening up policies for three decades and "its stance for keeping the door open remains unchanged."

Which "door" is this editorial referring to? The door to enter China or the door to do business in China?

It goes on to say:

However, regulation on the Internet is a sovereign issue. The Chinese government regulates the Internet according to laws and will improve its regulation step by step according to its own needs. It is a pure internal affair.

Regrettably, Google's recent behaviors show that the company not just aims at expanding business in China, but is playing an active role in exporting culture, value and ideas.

It is unfair for Google to impose its own value and yardsticks on Internet regulation to China, which has its own time-honored tradition, culture and value.

Whenever a company comes into a country, it does export culture, values and ideas. For example, drinking coffee is not a Chinese habit. But this has changed in recent years, as more young Chinese people head to Starbucks for a latte or cappuccino. And with it comes the coffee culture of kicking back, hanging out with friends or sitting in the shop reading a book.

It's very similar with Google.

If China was like almost every other country that basically allows most things to be seen on the Internet, we wouldn't be discussing this issue.

But because the Chinese government has an inherent need to censor online content, its sophisticated filtering system and policing on the Internet make it one of the most controlling ones in the world. The government claims it's to protect children from pornography, but from trying out the search results, it appears to be blocking more than just dirty pictures.

Censorship prevents its own people from getting access to information they not only want but need to know. Nineteen-eighty-nine is only one of them.

It's interesting to see Google make this move as one wonders how many more cards it has left to play before it physically leaves the country, if that is in the contingency plan.

More importantly, this ongoing dispute between Google and China has made foreign companies think twice about doing business here. For example now, companies in hi-tech industries are expected to hand over their technology in order to continue doing business here. Before Chinese people and companies would find ways to steal intellectual property from foreign companies and then build something similar. But now the government is outright demanding that these commodities be given to China.

How is that a level playing field?

The myth of one billion customers in China in the 1980s quickly evaporated; foreign companies here have quickly realized that this is not true. Nevertheless many continue to try to forge their way into the market, and now they are encountering more obstacles put out by the Chinese government which is conducting its own kind of protectionism -- an act it claims it abhors.

Google's stand is admirable its latest one that definitely wins PR points.

"We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision," David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer wrote in a blog post, "though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services."

Loyal Google users here are pleased that the company continues to take a strong stand, and it has even inspired some in Hong Kong to stand up to China when it tries to meddle in the former British colony's affairs.

While the Chinese government has stated in black in white what the rules are, it's hard not to support Google in its bid to push for greater freedom in Chinese cyberspace.

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