Google decided to risk all its China operations in a public* stand-up against local censorship and repression but at this stage, it's hard to tell whether Mountain View acts as a proxy to prevent a major clash between Washington and Beijing, or to the contrary as a courageous whistleblower exposing a major crisis up to now contained by both diplomatic teams. Or is it simply good PR because the cover-up couldn't last much longer anyway ?
The crisis ? A massive cyberattack from China last December, against Google and "at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses--including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors". As far as Big G is concerned, they "we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists," but (in substance) our systems proved once against their infallibility and if a few activists were eventually phished, it was outside of China and only because of their carelessness so at the end of the day we're pretty sure no good guy is rottening in one of their terrible "black jails" or worse because of us...
... but this is definitely getting a bit too far. And Google is under enough pressure in the West these days... so avoiding a major blunder in the East could be wise, even if it means making less business there... So. "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."
This noble deed fairy tale even includes a footnote reminding us accepting censorship in the first place was some kind of "discomfort" for Google. "At the time we made clear that "we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.""
Right now, Google China's future in the Middle Empire does look rather gloomy. China will have to give some sort of indirect answer**, arrest some fake culprit or whatever, but it is even less likely to concede to a foreign company than to a foreign country.
Is this good news for human rights in China ? Yes and no : Beijing may enjoy an even stronger direct control on the internet.
Will Google prevail in the long term in China ? As Zhou Enlai said about some other major disruption : too early to tell.
blogules 2010 - initially published on mot-bile ("Google in China : don't be evil anymore ?")
* see "A new Approach to China" (Official Google Blog - 20010112)
** even if being caught red-handed is not considered a crime in communist China
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