Google’s Hong Kong Gambit Is Public Relations Victory

So the other shoe finally dropped yesterday morning. Google announced that it would essentially shut down Google.cn (China hosted site) and instead redirect users to Google.com.hk (Hong Kong site).

Huge amount of chatter about this already, as you might guess. china/divide is providing you with a trifecta: Charles Custer kicked it off yesterday morning, Kai Pan continued in more detail, including links to background info, and I’m here in the wee hours with the dregs.

Since my colleagues have already taken this issue on directly, I’ll just do a bit of meta-bitching on the whole Hong Kong gambit. As a lawyer, I always see Hong Kong first and foremost as an offshore jurisdiction. To that extent, whether you put Google.cn services in Hong Kong, or Singapore, or Tunisia, it doesn’t really matter.

Is HK Foreign? Domestic? A Bioengineered Hybrid?

One caveat to that, of course. Beijing does have ultimate authority in Hong Kong despite the separate legal system and, in sensitive situations, will actually exercise that power to curtail certain kinds of political activity. I don’t see that happening in this case, but since it is always a theoretical possibility, that does distinguish Hong Kong from other offshore jurisdictions.

For the most part, though, this “move” to Hong Kong is quite meaningless. If Google decided to shut off its China site and simply required users to make do with existing offshore capabilities (e.g. Google.com, maybe with added language features), that would have been equivalent. All offshore jurisdictions look the same to the Great Firewall, and all content is subject to the same filtering. Hong Kong, despite having a Disneyland, is not a Magic Kingdom, and Tinkerbell cannot sprinkle pixie dust to make keyword filtering and IP blocking disappear.

I think Kai said it better, though (and certainly in a more straightforward fashion):

For those of you who are cheering Google on for uncensoring their search results for the Chinese masses, you’re idiots. Google has done nothing of the sort.

Message Accomplished

Indeed. But even if we realize that the Hong Kong move might be slightly underwhelming in its practical effect, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot more going on here. I think the Google move has very little to do with functionality but a lot to do with perception and public relations. Or at least that’s the way it’s turning out. And in the struggle to spin the story, Google is winning hands down thus far.

Consider the “story” Google can tell as of this morning:

1. Google couldn’t live with censorship in PRC.

2. Google didn’t want to pull out of PRC and leave all of its loyal users stranded.

3. Google therefore stayed in PRC, but moved to HK, a jurisdiction not subject to censorship requirements.

4. Google has stayed true to its principles and its users while following all relevant legal requirements.

I have to admit that it sounds like a great story. Of course, that’s what David Drummond, Google’s top lawyer and VP, wants us to think:

We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced. It’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.

Here’s an alternative version of events from the other side:

1. Google promised to follow all legal requirements in PRC.

2. Google subsequently thought it was deserving of special treatment, reneging on its promise.

3. Refused special treatment, Google had to close Google.cn and rely on offshore services, essentially going back to where it was, physically and legally, pre-2006.

4. Google is now offshore and subject to treatment identical to that of all other foreign sites.

Yeah, the first version sounds much better. But which spin will be picked up by the press? So far, it looks like Google’s move has generated favorable coverage for the search engine.

Plus ça change . . .

Google Tries to Route Users Around Chinese Censors – This is a gift headline from the LA Times. By “moving” to Hong Kong, Google can say that they are now able to offer Chinese users content that they no longer filter themselves (recall that Drummond quote suggesting that users will now be able to receive unfiltered search results). This conveniently ignores the fact that the HK site is subject to the same filtering (i.e. the Great Firewall) process to which all offshore sites are subject. This headline suggests that HK is a backdoor into China — it isn’t.

Google Quits Censoring Search in China – This CNN article suggests that a “showdown” with the PRC may ensue and quotes Drummond, who says Google is worried that the PRC may block the HK site. Brilliant tactical move there. If Beijing does block the entire domain, they will be seen as overreacting to a sensible Google compromise; in reality all the PRC would be doing is blocking another foreign information site. While blocking a site never makes Beijing look good, such a move is certainly not unprecedented. By throwing out the possibility, Drummond is setting up Google to play the victim, inviting the press to report a total site block as Beijing having a hissy fit after an orderly, sensible Google moved offshore voluntarily.

Chinese Internet Users Braced to Lose Google – From the FT, a headline suggesting an epic battle with earth-shattering consequences.

Someone Should Sell Tickets

Misleading, again, because the most likely scenario right now is that China residents will continue to have access to Google sites but that Google.com.hk content will continue to be subject to the Great Firewall.

Is it possible that Beijing will freak out and shut down all Google services? Sure, it could happen, but Beijing would end up with a worse international reputation and receive few benefits with respect to controlling Internet content. The current situation already gives Beijing more than sufficient control via the Great Firewall.

Even the White House, via this Associated Press article, has gotten into the game of pretending that some sort of grand bargain was possible had Beijing been willing to compromise on matters of current law:

The White House says it’s disappointed that Google and the Chinese government have been unable to reach an agreement that would allow the Internet search engine to operate freely in China.

Yes indeed, quite disappointing. But hardly surprising that an agreement on “operating freely” was not possible. That wouldn’t have been a compromise, it would have been Beijing caving into Google’s demands. Once again, the issue framing seems to be in Google’s favor.

It’s been quite a day. No one saw this Hong Kong gambit coming, and Google certainly gets props for keeping all this under wraps. And even before this latest move, Google had been portrayed in the Western media as the innocent, idealistic foreign newcomer faced with the reality of a tough, authoritarian government trying to pave the way for the local talent. The Hong Kong move can now be added to this narrative, and if initial press accounts are any indication, Google is well on its way to winning the messaging war.



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  1. lolz

    Very interesting how this is turning out. Google sure kicked ass in the PR game. China should hire Google’s PR firm in the future.

    • pug_ster

      They’re wasting time and money on a PR game if they are trying to court Western Audiences. Their only concern is to the Chinese Audience. It is working and that’s all it matters.

      • King Tubby

        And the domestic audience is probably more exercised by the dreadful weather conditions and drought in the south. Should throw in a Biblical quote here….

      • It doesn’t feel like a big PR push that involves high priced consultants and a rollout of a new ad campaign. This good press just seems to be a natural fallout of the decisions Google has made, and the way it’s being spun. Remember that China is the big bad guy on a number of fronts in the West these days.

        Domestic audience? I don’t think Google cares much about them these days, to be honest. Even though they are still trying to funnel search to them via HK, let’s face it, the revenue is the important thing, and it will be substantially gone because of the move offshore.

  2. Round Eyes

    That’s right, shame them to death! Go Google!

  3. What’s interesting to me is that from the point of view of mostly West-located people, especially those who love the pro-West, pro-freedom, and free speech narrative, every move Google makes in China and then in Hong Kong looks like Google autonomously moving on its own.

    There are contracts involved here, and you can bet there are carefully followed and cautiously attempted conversations about every single move that Google.cn had to make in order to make this appear like a free and autonomous Google administration taking a rebel’s approach to its decisionmaking. I beg to differ with this view.

    Google’s administrators made a mistake in launching the invective about censored results on its search engine platform. That was not the original issue. The issue was an alleged hacking attempt that stole the data of human right’s activists in Google’s servers.

    Overly simplified the argument that China allowed Google to operate in the .cn domain for Chinese language search with the expressed promise that there would be no government meddling. Was that promise breached? Was Google allowing other things to happen through its platform against China?

    Why did a fight about data theft turn into a (losing) fight about search results?

    • B-real

      well I remember a story a few weeks ago that China cracked down on those hackers. They raided a university dedicated to hacking. Which was beijing’s way of defending that the GOV was not involved in any hacking of Google. That is at the same moment Clinton stop barking, google, stop pointing fingers and Beijing had soem type of leverage.

      With that said Beijing was not in breach, and Google pulled out another card, which is the freedom of information card. There was an instance where google really did stop filtering their searches and the firewall took some time to lock down.

      To me this is a voluntary move for google because they can stay as long as they follow PRC rules. But like someone said before, google is trying to get Beijing to kowtow to Googles standards. Google never says die, PRC never says die. Google says good bye. No one really loses in this except for the poor employees who won’t have a job in the next few weeks. And I kind of all for that.

      Go Google

    • From my knowledge of the internal discussions that Google had in 2006 and 2009, Brin in particular was against operating a self-censored platform. He and Page ultimately went along with Schmidt, who pushed China operations.

      When the hacking occurred, it reinforced those original concerns. In other words, they now thought that being in China just wasn’t worth the trouble anymore.

      So I think there was a relationship between the hacking and the censorship issue, just not a direct connection.

  4. asdf

    I take this evidence to mean not how Google was expert in PR, but how unthinking and biased the western media is.

    • That’s my take on it, yeah. The coverage I’ve been reading since I wrote this post has just confirmed my initial impressions. Even search guru Danny Sullivan got some of the facts wrong when he reported on the Google story yesterday.

      I understand that this stuff is complicated, but there is plenty of information online, and the experts are out there. The media doesn’t always try too hard to get the details right, and the editors (esp. the ones writing the headlines) are even worse.

  5. Josh

    I think you guys are all being a bit harsh on Google. Here’s a good blog post on the subject from James Fallows who recently interviewed Drummond by phone. He sheds light on the fact that what Kai was screaming about in the last post, about how netizens are still censored, does not really matter too much, as well as some things that we as onlookers couldn’t have really seen.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/03/an-interview-with-david-drummond-of-google/37896/

    • Josh

      And by the way, for those who believe that this was all kicked off by the hacking, Drummond states that it wasn’t just that. So click the god damned link because it’s not a Rick Roll!

    • Ted

      Great read, thanks for the link Josh.

    • Terry

      Excellent link Josh and great summation of the PR aspects Stan… thanks…

      Was just thinking of that cost for Google to maintain internal censorship of search results while operating inside the Firewall may have also been a factor. Not only do you have to hire folks to monitor things 24/7, but being Google and foreign, they would always be a favorite kicking dog when convenient for the govt. to divert attention from other contentious issues (witness the issue about porn searches in the past) and would never be able to truly ever satisfy the PRC censor establishment. Drummond’s comment about turning over the responsibility of censorship to the Firewall rather than having to do it internally made a lot of sense.

      • Interesting point, but keep in mind that moving from Mainland to HK means that the vast majority of their ad revenue goes down the toilet. So when you balance that out, they are still losing a lot of money on the move than they are saving in admin costs.

        • Terry

          That remains to be seen Stan, after all they are still maintaining an ad sales force in China and if.. and that is is a big IF, traffic remains the same using the HK servers, the revenue hit might not be all that bad while the costs, moral and legal problems of doing the PRC’s dirty work for them have evaporated.

          • Will be interesting to watch. I wonder how they will structure their PRC operations now that the local platform is gone, though. This changes everything for their legal structure, revenue stream, and ability to employ a sales force at all.

            In the old days, if you were selling offshore product (which this is now), you might have some people here in a Representative Office, but you need offshore contracts and payment terms. Is that what they’re going to do now with PRC-based advertisers? And how many of those advertisers will be able/willing to pay offshore?

            I should probably write a post on this at some point, although it would be over at China Hearsay — too legal/technical (i.e., kinda boring) for C/D crowd.

    • Just read the Drummond interview. I actually think he validated everything Kai said. Look, ultimately it’s very important to Sergey Brin that Google is no longer censoring results. But as for the end user, there is no real difference, and pretending somehow that this HK move is therefore significant is a bit misleading.

      To be fair, I don’t think Google is intentionally misleading the public so much as they are quite willing to allow the press to think so. Call it an error of omission in nor correcting the record.

      Fallows asked the right questions and obviously knows the real situation. Drummond just confirmed it.

      Note that I’m not impugning Google’s motives here. They made what appears to be a principled decision, and I have no interest in criticizing that.

    • Josh,

      about how netizens are still censored, does not really matter too much

      Really? Does not really matter too much? Is that what Drummond said? That Chinese netizens still being censored does not really matter much to Google? That’s a bit at odds with their public statement AND with how the media is spinning this, as Stan has shown above.

      I do think Google does care on some level that Chinese netizens are censored, but they cared more about Google not being associated with it in any way. At least that’s what I felt and what Fallows’ interview with Drummond confirmed. Google has the right to make that decision as I have cause to write about how their decision will affect the Chinese netizens. Do you think the things I screamed about were wrong? Or just unimportant to you?

      • Josh

        Whoa. Relax, bud. Poor choice of words on my part. I wrote that post at 8 this morning while I was in between lesson plans before heading off to work.

        Let me put a bit more thought into it this go around:

        I think netizens being censored is important and is unequivocally wrong. However, I think that Google ceasing its self-censorship, just as Terry said, is an important step in the fact that there is now no responsibility on Google’s shoulders at all. It may not change the reality that the Chinese internet remains censored, but at least Google is washing their hands of it. In your previous post, it seemed that you took issue with the fact that they’re making it seem as if they’re taking a principled stand when their actions have had no effect on the way the average Chinese browses the net.

        Again, it is true that this is the case. However, I think that Google’s target audience, young, urban Chinese know and understand that Google thinks censorship is wrong. And let’s not forget all the points they’re winning with the rest of the world. I believe Google was rated as the best brand in the world a year or so ago. It’s things like this that make that brand name so powerful.

        • Josh,

          However, I think that Google ceasing its self-censorship, just as Terry said, is an important step in the fact that there is now no responsibility on Google’s shoulders at all.

          I agree, it is important for Google. What I was “screaming” about was about what’s important for the Chinese netizens. Again, Google has the right to do whatever it wants. I just don’t agree with people mistakenly portraying this as what Chinese netizens want, that Chinese netizens have benefited, that Chinese netizens should rejoice.

          However, I think that Google’s target audience, young, urban Chinese know and understand that Google thinks censorship is wrong.

          Absolutely. But not everyone agrees with how Google handled this or enjoys the ramifications of its actions. There’s a difference between Google fighting censorship and Google just abstaining from it. Their actions here are far closer to the latter than the former. It’s hard to say that Google is bringing more information to the Chinese when its actions have deprived them of guaranteed access to Google’s algorithms (which sort information) and threatens to result in no access to any of Google’s algorithms.

          And let’s not forget all the points they’re winning with the rest of the world.

          I was never out to argue the points Google is winning with the rest of the world. I couldn’t care less about that because ultimately, what Google has done here has little effect upon their lives. The ones who are bearing the brunt of Google’s actions are the Chinese netizens. Why is it important that the rest of the world is patting themselves on the back?

          I don’t begrudge Google making business decisions such as protecting its brand. I’m not here to criticize Google’s business decisions. I’m here to put into perspective how Google’s decision (even business-decision) will affect the Chinese users they once served.

          • Bai Ren

            @Kai, This decision affects Chinese netizens more than you let on. Yes they are still behind the firewall, however they now have access to a Simplified Chinese Google that is not complicit with the Harmonious Society regime. The major international internet firms operating in China such as Google, Yahoo and Skype all are complicit in the CCPs censorship as the guidelines they have to follow are not clearly spelt out. They often censor information without being asked to and which would not have been censored by the great firewall. While Google.cn was by far the most open search engine before (giving the most hits per request) they instituted their OWN discretion on what and how to censor.

          • Bai ren,

            Given that I’ve made a big stink about how this decision affects Chinese netizens, perhaps you can clarify what you mean by “more”. I fully recognize that Chinese netizens have access to a simplified Chinese Google that is not complicit with China’s censorship policies. But they previously had this as well. They simply had to go to Google.com and change the interface language to Simplified Chinese (or Google.com.hk or any other Google search property). Julen @ Chinayouren had a good post about this (linked in my post).

            The difference now is that Google is forwarding google.cn traffic to google.com.hk. The worry now is that the Chinese government will retaliate by using the GFW to further censor google.com.hk, which many people are citing as happening. More worrisome than that is categorically blocking all Google search properties. Worst (but I think unlikely), blocking all Google services.

            Minor detail: I don’t think we can judge Google.cn to be the most “open” simply on the basis of most hits per request. That’s more an issue of how a search engine calculates matching results. Baidu has argued that Google interprets queries more loosely than they do. Thus the relevance and value of all those extra results are understandably arguable. The big plus Google had over Baidu, as many Chinese netizens agree, is that Google ostensibly did not sell search rankings and more clearly differentiated ads from organic results.

            I completely understand the “I don’t want to figure out what to censor or have a direct role in censoring” angle. I just don’t agree with a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the Google issue that fails to account or disingenuously accounts for how this will affect Chinese netizens.

            So, I already see how this affects Google, but I don’t see what you’re referring to when you say this “decision affects Chinese netizens more than” I let on.

    • lolz

      WTF I was hoping that it was a rick roll.

      Not sure if I believe this guy 100%, but from what he said it does sound like a business decision to pull out of China, with the hacking of the email accounts as the key catalyst.

      I hope its worth it because despite most of the news organizations trying to low play the effect of the Chinese market on google’s bottom-line, since google annouced its spat with China it did lose roughly 12% of its share price, effectively wiping off billions off shareholders hands.

  6. Yes, Kai states “For those of you who are cheering Google on for uncensoring their search results for the Chinese masses, you’re idiots. Google has done nothing of the sort.”

    But actually they did do just that. They discontinued their self-censorship of search results. The firewall impeding sensitive content is now on the shoulders of China itself, not Google. Yay Google! I’m and idiot!

    Btw, he then goes on to say “Yes, that’s admirable in of itself, for not partaking in the state of censorship…” thus becoming an idiot himself by his own words.

    • Tom

      If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, what happens? Kai is saying that nobody heard it. You’re getting all upset over the fact that the tree does make a sound.

      Well, yeah, it does, but Kai is talking about nobody being there to hear it. He never disputed that the tree makes a sound.

      So, yeah, I agree with your description of yourself as “and idiot.” It’s fine to disagree about substantive issues. But pretending that you don’t understand his argument? (Or maybe you really don’t?)

    • See my comments above. I don’t think there is much of an argument here. With the HK move, Sergey Brin is now sleeping better at night, which is fine. But for all the users in China, life goes on the same as before.

      Kai was pointing out that anyone who thinks that the user experience has changed is an idiot. He knows that Google itself is not doing the filtering now, but like me, he wants people to know that this fact is essentially meaningless to the general public.

      • Christine

        Sorry Josh but I don’t think Drummond deserves any ground for the benefit of the doubt. If you are in need of concrete evidence to expose Google’s hypocrisy, just take a look at their official blog (googleblog.blogspot.com). In Drummond’s piece posted on 3/22, he claimed that their relocation to HK “is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced—it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.” Of course it’s legal, free trade contract after all. But in what ways does it increase information access for people in China? Google is playing with the geo-political dynamics between PRC and HK(SAR) here. By replacing google.cn with google.com.hk, and under the logic that HK is under the sovereignty of China, Google can still tell the world that they are providing uncensored search results to users in China. But as Kai and Stan repeatedly clarified, users in mainland China (excluding HK) cannot access censored materials contained in google.com.hk from their service providers located in mainland China, because content in google.com.hk is filtered by the Chinese government no less than content in google.com. Is it possible that Drummond and the Google executives don’t see much of a difference between “Chinese people in China” and “Chinese people in HK”? They are smart enough to take advantage of the separate jurisdiction of HK for their business migration so I don’t believe that they don’t recognize the differences here. Besides, this decision only deteriorates the quality of services for netizens in HK when they access google.com.hk. Yet the use of the nonspecific term “people in China” is a proof of their disingenuous attempt to win the political vote for their consideration of the civil rights of “the Chinese people”.

        • Josh

          Although it’s not especially related to the topic of your post, it behooves you to try clicking this link if you’re inside China and not using a VPN:

          http://googleblog.blogspot.com/

          For something related to what you wrote, see what I wrote above in response to Kai.

    • Thanks, Stan.

      lossofmind, the key words were “for the Chinese masses.” Google hasn’t uncensored the internet for the Chinese masses. Yes, they’re not self-censoring anymore, but the end result for the Chinese masses is largely the same. Idiots are the ones who think Google’s move here has somehow lifted the veil of government censorship from the Chinese masses’ eyes.

      Does that make sense? I’m not sure, maybe I should’ve worded myself different but I thought it was clear. If not, my bad, but there should be no confusion about what I understand about what Google did. Google dismantled Google.cn, thereby not engaging in self-censorship, as Drummond answered Fallows. I respect that they accomplished part of what they wanted: to no longer be part of an oppressive system they felt their previous compromise associated them with. I don’t respect any suggestion that what they’ve done directly benefits the Chinese netizen. Why? Because I don’t see it yet. I see a ton of losses and resentment despite some genuinely admiring Google wanting to return to a principle they themselves do want to agree with. I’m just not sure that admiration will yield any positive changes to make up for the pragmatic losses.

      I do sincerely think those who mistakenly think Google has single-handedly improved the state of censorship for the Chinese masses with this move are, again, mistaken and, yes, idiots. They’re getting ahead of themselves cheering while many Chinese netizens are utterly dejected. Are they even asking why the Chinese netizens are dejected? No, and the idiocy becomes self-absorption. It annoys me that they’re not even considering those who are affected most: the Chinese people.

  7. Hank

    Good analysis, Stan.

    China is like a gorilla who only knows one direction – forward. China should learn how to move sideways in order to be more flexible in the media.

    By using stereotypical propaganda and petty threats, China guarantees that it will lose in the public relations and media war.

    Censorship has been declining year by year since China “opened up to the West.”

    Many of the Western sillies who criticize China do not know that Chinese were not allowed to buy or read Time Magazine, Life, Reader’s Digest, or theWall Street Journal in the late 1970s. Only foreigners could buy them. Even five years ago, China was still physically tearing out pages of articles in Newsweek magazine sold in major hotels.

    Today, by any standard, China has moved light-years in providing information to its people.

    Google’s claim to support uncensored news is nothing but a smokescreen. The US is waging soft-core warfare against China. The US is using the media and other pr tools such as Google, the Dalai Lama, Xinjiang, revaluation of the rmb, as tactical props in this shadow war.

    While the naive Western public is distracted with so-called censorship issue in China, the US is selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to Taiwan. Why? China and Taiwan have been moving closer and closer.

    US control of Afghanistan and eventually Pakistan is to put into place a key military presence to block China not destroy the Taliban.

    Yes, China is clumsy, crude, and un-skillful when it comes to defending itself in the media. Yes, China has a lot of warts and even bad breath but it is far above Russia, India, all of Africa, all of the Muslim countries, many of the Latin American countries when it comes to hard work, self-impovement, and providing a better life for its people.

    Had China taken a different tack and stressed how Chinese society is still populated with large numbers of people who are susceptible to superstitions, rumors, anti-social agitation, etc., it could have made a case for itself for why it still must have some control on the flow of information in the society. It IS for maintaining social stability.

    China’s problem is NOT censorship, China’s problem is that it doesn’t know how to defend itself in the media controlled by the West.

    • A concerted effort to get media savvy sure would be a good idea. There are some glimmers. I actually think that the folks who work for Wen Jiabao do a pretty good job packaging him and dealing with media. It’s all domestic, of course, so it’s not exactly heavy lifting. Small improvement over past practices, though.

      Hiring better spokespeople at ministries would be nice, too. Some of these guys are reminiscent of Baghdad Bob.

      • Josh

        Yeah, I certainly don’t think calling the Dalai Lama a jackal clad in monk’s robes who has the face of a man and the heart of a beast helps too much when it comes to winning PR points.

    • lolz

      China does have a problem with its handling of foreign media, but its censorship is making things worse.

      The two issues are closely related. When Chinese government lifted the censors during the Uighur riots the Western media stories also became less biased.
      I can only hope that the Chinese government has SOME kind of plan to gradually move off censorship, not for the sake of western media or how China is viewed in the west (it can’t get much worse, IMO), but for its own people. There are way too much corruption and injustices in China, but are being unreported due to the censorship. Less censored media will give people a chance to vent and thus prevent violent outbursts which will happen sooner or later.

    • Bai ren

      I find your criticisms to be well thought out on the whole. However I find it difficult to agree with your support of Chinese censorship. ALL people are susecptible to rumours. Look at Canada, just a few months ago rumours that one of its major folk icons had died ripped through twitter and were even picked up by the main stream media untill the man made a media appearence.

      The possiblity of rumour mongering is not a good defence for censorship based on social stability.

      Furthermore those who are using the Internet in China are mianly educated urbanites be they students or professionals. They are China’s version of the information aged global citizen and are as capable (based on their habitus) as any other to control their behavoir based upon the information they come across.

      Censorship has improved in China, however it still exists to the point to stop free expression and free access to information. Chinese citizens should be given the chance to form crtiical opinions instead of being coddled by a parentalistic government.

      I hope the trajectory of loosening censorship restrictions continues in China. However it won’t without pressure. China’s problem IS censorship, and if you think that they are incapable of soft power media wars then you severly misunder estimate the sublty and skill of their propaganda machine which has just begun to wrest itself from a purely domestic focus to a global one.

      • Hank

        @Bai Ren

        Bai Ren: “The possiblity of rumour mongering is not a good defence for censorship based on social stability.”

        You’re either politically naive or totally confused about how societies, especially in developing countries, behave.

        China’s leaders may not win an award for most congeniality but they definitely deserve credit for keeping united a country the size and complexity of China (remember 1 China = Russia, Japan, USA, France, Germany, Mexico, Egypt, UK, and probably a few Australias combined).

        A controlled censorship is absolutely required for a developing society which has many national minorities and social divisions.

        China only has to look at Africa to see the chaos and social instability that is caused by rumors and unfiltered information.

        Wake up, guy!

        “The brutal killings [Tanzania] — 40 since 2007 — are fueled by rumors that albino blood, skin, and hair have magical powers. People are actually weaving albino hair into their fishing nets and fashioning amulets with albino body parts, hoping that these devices will bring them riches …”
        http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=killing-albinos-tanzania-albinism

        “A situation of confusion and menace, in which uncertainty and fear abound, is one of the framework conditions for genocide. Rumors are deliberately fabricated ‘from above,’ in order to enhance the uncertainty. In the history of Rwanda since 1959, deliberate rumors have played a key role in triggering allegedly “spontaneous” violence. An atmosphere was created which produced a ‘kill or be killed’ psychosis in individuals.”

        Genocide and crisis in Central Africa: conflict roots, mass violence, and …

        “… the rumors of a planned genocide in South Africa of white people upon the death of Nelson Mandela. …”

        http://www.d-series.org/…/60715-new-fear-south-africa-operation-white-clean-up. html – Cached – Similar

        The Rwandan …
        “Between the years of 1959 and 1994, the idea of genocide, … Kayibanda encouraged violence against Tutsi and spread frequent rumors of Tutsi plots.”

        crinfo.beyondintractability.org/case…/rwandan_genocide.jsp?

  8. Jay (a different one)

    I wonder if Google will now also claim hacking by the Brazilian Government after having been fined ($2847 a day) for refusing to self-censor its Orkut (sort of facebook) site. Ironic detail in the verdict is that Google’s argument to refuse to censor because it was technically impossible (apparently not because Google doesn’t like censoring on principle) was rejected on the basis that Google had shown in China that it was perfectly able to censor its sites….

  9. lulu

    Today – was a very unnerving day, indeed. I was at Google when one headstrong man put a bouquet of flowers on the ground. Suddenly, 6 photographers jumped out of nowhere, two security guards and a horde of by-standers came to life.

    What is going on?

    • B-real

      well all I got to say is that Google came thru and China is slacking on the block. Im getting unblocked porn in english, but Dalai Lama is still blocked on Wiki, but I can get his images. I can’t get donkey from Tibet, and or Xinjiang, Urumqi, sichuan. So the priority is not porn like they say it is. Which leads to another fact that its all political. Glad VPNs aren’t blocked.

  10. zball

    Honestly, I cannot see how China’s image could be better, if not worse, even more efforts were put in by Chinese government to deal with western media. Although western media would never claim itself as mouthpiece of its government, it did cook news serving for its government’s agenda. That is probably why in this Google drama, a pure commercial company was pictured and hailed as a human right fighter in most western medias without even a shred of analysis on the negative impacts Google dumped on its Chinese customers.

    Censorship definitely is not fair for the general public living in China to grab outside information. However, the Chinese netizen at least realize the existence of the GFW. And large portion of them are able to read English articles fell through the GFW. On the contrary, I am wondering how many westerners realize the existence of a more delicate self censorship mechanism adopted by their so called unbiased media. There is no Firewall in the States and some of the European countries. However, how many westerners can and are willing to read news not printed in their own languages? On this point, I believe the middlenuts play a more important and effective role in improving mutual understanding between China and west:)

  11. Josh

    By the way, another good note in the Google Saga from Fallows. This one is from a reader:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/03/three-google-china-follow-ups/37941/

  12. Bai Ren

    Google is porbably more concerned with the legal liability it has in other countries if Chinese based hackers get into companies based in other countries by accessing them through Google search. This also applies to emails. Human Rights is a convenient way for them to back off and protest without bringing attention to their own security issues. But US legislation in action and in the works might make this voluntary on HR reasons move by google a wise legal decision if they choose to stay in the US

    Global Online Freedom Act

    • B-real

      Man this would really screw with Yahoo, MSN, Bing, because they seem to be running smooth in china. The only party that will get hurt by this move would be Chinese. Most internet firms from the US are international but non of China’s. Which means no money coming in, isolating them even further. Just circulating the same RMB, forcing them to go backwards. The firms will have to find loop holes like Google to operate. Creating real competition amongst real competitors on a global stage.

      • Bai ren

        If the information based industries become restricted in such a manner I question what sort of outcry we will hear from them on their ability to conduct business compared to other companies in different industries such as Wal-mart. Consumption is a form of self expression, should Wal-mart not be allowed to operate in China because the Huko system creates an institutionalized wealth gap which limites 60% of China’s population from freely participating in the consumer market and fulfilling their fundemental human right to self expression?

        I am no fan of the human rights regiem, I agree with many commentators that it has become embedded in the fold’s of America’s soft power war for world dominance, even though they only focus on political and civic rights instead of social and economic rights. At the same time I hope moves towards equal treatment of peoples, and protection of the most marginalized of society can be achieved in some responsible way.

  13. Ravn

    It has been interesting to see how the story has been widely covered in the Chinese press. In that perspective, I guess that Google also did something important as a company that support freedom and unlimited access to information. Thanks to the the domestic press coverage, Google has been able to trigger a debate in China about censorship and unlimited access to information. Unfortunately this is not the story that the majority of the Western press is picking up which is a shame because it is a good opportunity to show a more balanced picture where China isn’t the dictatorship that suppress freedom of speech.

  14. Jones

    Let’s change the name of the blog to Google/Divide, for the sake of consistency.

  15. SV

    To me an interesting story is how will we look back in history at all the American executives lawyers now helping American companies in China, leading all those naive American sheep to slaughter? When they’re all fleeced of their IP and booted out by the crypto-fascists who call themselves communists, will the China-corporate appeasers all claim that “nobody could see it coming?” Like the Wall Street thugs who claimed that nobody could have predicted the subprime mess?

    • Hank

      @SV

      “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Lenin

      Lenin supposedly said this but even if he didn’t, he should have.

      In answer to your question of how will history treat the collusion of American businessmen who trade with China, well, it will be the same way it treated American businesses that colluded with Nazi Germany prior to the war.

      There will eventually be a world war in your (and my) lifetime. The fundamental contradictions that led to WWI and WWII are growing stronger day by day. There is no way these contradictions can be resolved absent of war.

      Oh, your comment about “crypto-fascists who call themselves communists” is right on target. You cannot buy a copy of Marx’ or Lenin’s work (in Chinese!) in any major bookstore in Beijing. The real irony is that you also cannot find Mao’s works.