Towards: A Society For All
 Editor: Eulenspargel
No 2 - January 2010 (last change 25.03.10)  

Google's threat to leave China and the wider scene

Financial Times 14.01.2010
(printed version)

From the beginning of its engagement in China in 2000, Google has repeatedly had trouble with constrictive government-originated impositions, related to censorship and maybe also connected with protectionism. Operations were blocked on several occasions, and ever more aggressive hacker attacks on PCs and on company infrastructure had to be endured. This applies to the Chinese-local existing since 2006/2007, and to the global as well. Working in China was only possible by exercising censorship under the pressure of the chinese government, thus violating the ethics of the company mission "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessable and useful". Either Google is no longer willing to make this compromise, or else, as suggested by the competitors Microsoft and Yahoo, Google wants to stage a 'strategic withdrawal' in the face of the dominance of the chinese

search engine At any rate, the threat by Google to leave China is to date the most spectacular example of the mounting frustration of foreign companies with the asymmetric business conditions afforded them in China. Until recently, western firms were lobbying their national diplomats to play down human rights and other issues, in order to participate in the -potentially- largest and fastest growing single market in the world. The tolerance level now appears to be dwindling as the foreigners are facing a growing government-induced protectionism, particularly favouring chinese state-owned competitors. This heightens market entry barriers and threatens the prospects of a positive return on investment. The EU Chamber of Commerce in China has itself expressed concern, especially over:
- rising chinese protectionism in general,
- lack of market access,
- lack of legal and political transparency,
- lax protection of IPRs.

It seems likely that most other foreign companies will not react as consequently as Google. And in the end, Google may back down and play according to the rules set down by Beijing.

This, at least, is the tacit assumption of the chinese politicians.
However, Google's move, the rejection of Chinas' demands at the Climate Conference, and the snub to China at the recent iron ore price negotiations are signs that things are no longer as asymmetric as they had been during the last decade.

All quiet in the East (Eulenspargel)

The political and economic goals in China and the West seem quite stable, Google or no Google. This is also shown by the recent China visit of the german foreign minister Westerwelle. In the news, the listener learnt that:
- Westerwelle clearly addressed the human rights issue,
- he had demonstrated that it is possible to both engage in fruitful investment negotiations and to talk seriously about human rights,
- It is better to continue the political dialog.

The listener is not really informed of what the Minister addressed, nor of how his chinese partners responded.
But that is not censorship. They probably just had afternoon tea.

Google and China: update 25.03.2010

Google begins cooperation with US government agency

Google has turned to the US National Security Agency (in charge of global electronic surveillance) for technical assistance in cybersecurity. One goal might be to more precisely determine the identity of the hackers, a primary goal of which had been to gain access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

This collaboration raises civil rights issues. Superficially, the agreement would not permit the NSA to have access to information belonging to Google

users. In reality, the agreement is secret, and the public is principally not informed about which information is available to the agency.

Google deactivates its China-proper search engine

Google is redirecting users in mainland China to its unrestricted Hong Kong site. But Chinese firewalls ensure that results still come back censored. Chinese officials are accusing Google of acting contrary to chinese laws. However China appears to be avoiding an escalation of the issue, maybe because its international image concerning suppression of information liberties would otherwise be further aggravated. This would strain US relations and fuel the civil rights activities.

[1] NY Times "Google Asks Spy Agency for Help With Inquiry Into Cyberattacks ", 04.02.2010
[2] BBC News "China condemns decision by Google to lift censorship", 23.03.2010
[3] BBC News "Timeline: China and net censorship", (23.03.2010)