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China accuses Google of breaking promise
London, Mar 23 (Agencies):
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Published on 24 Mar. 2010 12:30 AM IST
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China has said Google’s move to stop censoring search results is “totally wrong” and accused it of breaking a promise made when it launched in China.
The US giant is redirecting users in mainland China to its unrestricted Hong Kong site, although Chinese firewalls mean results still come back censored. Beijing said the decision should not affect ties with Washington. Google threatened to leave the Chinese market completely this year after cyber attacks were traced back to China.
Google’s move effectively to shut its mainland Chinese search service, google.cn, is a major blow to China’s international image, the BBC’s Damian Grammaticas reports from Beijing. It means one of the world’s most prominent corporations is saying it is no longer willing to co-operate in China’s censorship of the internet, our correspondent says.
China has moved to further limit free speech on the web - Google’s own websites and the e-mail accounts of human rights activists have recently come under cyber attack. The White House said it was “disappointed” that Google and China had not been able to resolve their differences. A BBC search of google.cn on Tuesday using the word “Tianamen” brought up results but the words “Dalai Lama” returned messages like “problem loading page” and “the connection was reset”.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters that Google’s move was an isolated act by a commercial company and should not affect China-US ties “unless politicised” by others. The government would handle the Google case “according to the law”, he added.
Earlier an official in the Chinese government office which oversees the internet said: “Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks.”
“This is totally wrong. We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicisation of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying by Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
Chen Yafei, a Chinese information technology specialist, told Reuters that Google should have accepted Chinese regulation if it wanted to operate in the country. “Any company entering China should abide by Chinese laws...” he said. “Chinese internet users will have no regrets if Google withdraws.” Edward Yu, chief executive of Analysys International, a Beijing-based research firm specialising in technology issues, said he did not believe Google’s rerouting was sustainable.
“The thing that makes the government unhappy is this kind of gesture...” he said. “They may set up barriers against Google.”
Young Chinese professionals working in Beijing’s main IT hub, Zhongguancun, expressed a mixture of regret, anger and surprise on Tuesday at Google’s decision.
“I think it was inevitable though,” Chen Wen, 28, told Reuters. “The government was never going to compromise on filtering. China needs this company. It’s a great loss for the country.”
You Chuanbo, 25, predicted the government would “just end up blocking access to all of Google”.
Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said earlier that providing uncensored searches through the Hong Kong-based google.com.hk website was “entirely legal” and would “meaningfully increase access to information for people in China”.
“We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services,” he wrote in a blog post.
Google said it would maintain an R&D and sales presence in China where about 700 of its 20,000 employees are based.
Google spokeswoman Marsha Wang told AFP news agency she had no information about lay-offs or a possible transfer of staff to Hong Kong offices, saying only that “adjustments” could be made “according to business demand”.
While Google is the world’s most popular search engine, it is a distant number two in the Chinese market, which is dominated by Baidu.
However, because of the size and growth rate of China’s internet population, any loss of business there is likely to harm Google’s future growth prospects.
Analysts said that initially Google’s prospects would not be dented by shutting down Google.cn as it is responsible, at most, for 2% of its annual $24bn (£15.9bn) revenue.
China operates one of the most sophisticated and wide-reaching censorship systems in the world.
Thousands of police officers are employed to monitor web activity and many automated systems watch blogs, chat rooms and other sites to ensure that banned subjects, such as Tiananmen Square, are not discussed.

 
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