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Google is the Juggernaut, B*tch

23 Mar 2010

Google takes shit from nobody. Seriously. The search engine giant announced in its official blog yesterday that it would follow up on its promise to “stop censoring search on Google.cn.” More than two months after the original cyber-attacks that first sparked the censorship controversy, Google has decided to defy the Chinese government by redirecting its mainland visitors to the uncensored Google.com.hk. While Chinese internet users are now able to search once-taboo queries such as “tiananmen square”, “falun gong”, or “tiger woods sex scandal”, the Great Firewall of China is still in full force, preventing them from actually accessing websites related to such topics. In the meantime, the company has set up this dashboard page for an overview of which Google services are still available.

It seems to be a lose-lose scenario for both Google and the PRC, as the two parties refuse to give way over this irreconcilable issue. Google will almost certainly lose its vital window into the burgeoning China market, but at the same time China will turn inwards and focus more on local internet companies such as Baidu. This would reduce competition and further setback innovation in the country’s tech sector. Unsurprisingly, Chinese government officials continue to insist on “saving face”. An official from China’s State Council Information Office was quick to denounce Google’s move:

“This is totally wrong. We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.”

According to technology analyst Rob Enderle, Google’s decision to “play brinksmanship with a government, particularly one as large and powerful as China” could turn out to be a “dangerous game”. But, as he points out in this Bloomberg interview, Google’s aggressive China strategy has garnered much populist support in the free world and transformed the company into a sort of corporate martyr. How exactly this will affect international relations has yet to be seen. Following Hillary Clinton’s speech on internet freedom back in January, the US has made clear its stance on the issue, though it’s unlikely to escalate beyond indignant finger-wagging from Washington.

What’s more interesting is how the latest turn of events may affect China’s relations with Hong Kong. With Google’s decision to redirect everything to Google.com.hk, it seems that HK has become the West Berlin of this new cyberspace Cold War — the last bastion of freedom in China. Recently, Beijing has turned the disapproving Eye of Sauron back to the SAR in light of recent political radicalism and by-election shenanigans. Google’s actions are only adding fuel to the fire. In an official statement, the HK government reiterated that it “places no restrictions on access to Hong Kong based Web sites from anywhere in the world,” but it seems unlikely that Beijing would just let something like that slide.

How do you think China will respond? Is Google being too aggressive? How will its decision affect Chinese relations with the U.S? Hong Kong? Other corporations? Comment away.

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