Google’s China Withdrawal As Much Politics as Business

After stalled talks with China, Google is likely to close its operations there. It looks like Google won’t be able to operate in China without censoring results, so the search company, which won’t run a censored search engine, is poised to pull out. The Wall Street Journal has details:

Chinese authorities on Friday told local news Web sites that Google’s Chinese site is likely to close and that, if it does, the news sites will be required to use only official accounts of the situation, rather than publish stories from anywhere else, according to a person familiar with the order. A person familiar with situation said on Saturday that Google is likely to take action within weeks.

Google’s closure of Google.cn would leave the Internet in China—which has about 400 million users, more than any other country, and is adding about 250,000 more each day—almost entirely dominated by local companies.

That helps the Chinese government’s efforts to control information, because it can more easily control local companies, but it means foreign participation in one of the fastest-growing parts of China’s economy will be limited, and it leaves Chinese users increasingly isolated.

If (Google.cn) is closed, Google could still offer Chinese-language search to Chinese users from offshore, as it did for several years before it started Google.cn in 2006. Users could also theoretically continue to use other Google services, such as Gmail, that are based outside China.

Google intends to keep some non-search business operations in China.

Google has argued that China is violating World Trade Organization rules by censoring the Internet, and has urged Congress to look into the matter. The Chinese government maintains that it is not violating any rules.

Google agreed to censor its search results in 2006 to gain a bigger Chinese market share. It changed its stance after being hit by cyberattacks originating in China earlier this year.

By withdrawing from China, Google is taking a stand against censorship. Google, however, has been censoring for about 4 years already, has deep ties with the Obama administration, and doesn’t have a big market share in China anyway. The company’s move is also in sync with Hillary Clinton’s statement against the information curtain that Internet censorship represents.

Meanwhile, China is already angry about US arms sales to Taiwan. There’s more to this story than freedom of information (Google’s spin) and the Chinese government’s adherence to its “Internet clean-up” campaign.

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