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Google shuts down google.cn and routing to google.com.hk

Google has just officially announced discontinuing google.cn and routing web requests to google.com.hk. It has proclaimed serving uncensored results from Hong Kong “entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.” Legally, it is probably true, but the Chinese government might take steps to block google.com.hk for Mainland users, as China has done with some other Google services. Google has also announced a tracking web page to show what Google services are blocked within China.

In anticipation for today’s announcement, former Financial Times reporter, Tom Foremski, has an interesting take on this matter yesterday over at the Silicon Valley Watcher blog: “Analysis: Chinese Animosity To Google Is Rising Quickly – Google Should Have Googled “Opium Wars”.” He said:

Google has demonstrated a shocking lack of historical knowledge and lack of understanding of Chinese culture in its dealings with the Chinese government.

For a foreign organization to give the Chinese government an ultimatum on changing its laws is like poking a sharp stick into an old wound. Google should have Googled “Opium Wars” before it issued its ultimatum.

The British forced the Chinese to make opium legal, which led to huge amounts of instability in Chinese society, and resulted in two brutal wars, the second one included the French.

Obviously, the U.S. will not invade China over this Google issue, so this comparison is not a direct one.   But he is absolutely right that the Chinese population will recall this history and see the parallel in the contempt for Chinese laws and values being the same between Google and the Opium-pushing Britain of the two past Opium Wars. In the 1800’s, imperialism was about direct domination of others. In the 21st century, perhaps it is more about the battling of ideas and values. For a better read and not so crude take on this issue, please read “Google vs. China – Good vs. Evil?” written by Allen.

Animosity within China for Google has indeed risen. I really doubt Google executives expected this reaction from within China.  What will the Chinese government do next? I think they might make google.cn domain registration illegal inside China.  After that, there will be no remnants of google.cn at all.

As Foremski stated, Google has not offered up any evidence linking the Chinese government to the attacks. Given the fact that all U.S. media have basically jumped to the conclusion that the Chinese government was behind the hacks, isn’t there a case of libel triggered by Google’s January 12, 2010 announcement?

What if the Chinese government sues Google in the Chinese courts for libel?

It will also be interesting to see what level of interest the U.S. media will have on this story after this “pull-out” reactions are over with.

  1. r v
    March 22nd, 2010 at 18:22 | #1

    There is no “libel” against a whole country. If the Public is taken as an entity, then perhaps the charge of reckless endangerment of public order, as similar to yelling fire in a packed theater.

    Google, by implying rumors, has substantially harmed the general business environment of China, by discouraging foreign investment and propagating an atmosphere of fear.

    Google, even if having legitimate grievances, has chosen not to bring its complaints to the Chinese authorities, along with facts and evidence. Thus, it has forfeit its opportunity for redress.

    Instead, it has taken the law into its own hands and decided upon a course to “poison the well,” by using its public prominence.

    While the corporation may decide to close down its business anywhere it pleases, its corporate officers must also be responsible for irresponsible speech.

    If “defamation” cannot be excused by business interests, then neither can yelling fire in a crowded theater.

  2. March 22nd, 2010 at 23:32 | #2

    @r v
    Welcome to HH and thx for clarifying that point for us. 🙂

  3. r v
    March 23rd, 2010 at 07:13 | #3

    allow me to further clarify my point:

    If Google does not wish to censor/filter its results any more, that is its business decision. It’s not a crime to do so. However, it must obey the local laws on that regard, and if that means it must shut down its business, so be it. It can’t have its cake and eat it too.

    If Google wishes to shut down its search business in China, it is its right to do so.

    The ONLY questionable conduct is in its corporate directors making accusations, which it has no intension of substantiating in a court of law.

    Corporate directors and managers as individuals, have no right to abuse their power of speech to damage business in that fashion (ie. to poison the well, or to cause a stampede).

    If a corporate director used rumors to provoke a massive sell off in the NY stock exchange, he would be liable for conspiracy to commit fraud for his own business benefit.

    Google’s officers have committed a substantially similar offense. It is beyond their rights to free speech.

    While there are always critics of China, they do not all have a vested economic interest in China. Google is an interested party in economic condition of China. And its officers’ speech is evidently an attempt to benefit Google’s economic interests by harming others, using a political scare tactic.

    If Google does believe that China’s social/political conditions are harmful to its core beliefs, then it should pull out completely. That contradiction is simply unbelievable.

    If Chinese government is behind the hacking of Google’s emails, then it is equally likely that Chinese hackers already know how to hack into Google’s video and cell phone businesses to get at personal information, and can censor them if necessary.

    Far more likely from the evidence of its conducts, Google’s “pullout” is a mere face saving move intended to gain some positive corporate reputation for economic gains.

    *It is also possible that the “pull out” is merely a half-assed compromise between different opinions among the Google officers.

  4. March 24th, 2010 at 18:08 | #4

    To me, this article (China goes on the offensive in spat with Google) sums up the prognosis for Google in China in the future about right. Politicization of business is never good … but it is what it is.

    China issued a blistering public attack against Google on Wednesday and appeared to quietly begin getting businesses to abandon the U.S. Internet giant after it moved its controversial Chinese search engine offshore.

    The critical remarks in a high-profile Communist Party newspaper coupled with souring business deals underscored Beijing’s determination to settle scores with Google Inc. after a public two-month dispute over stringent Chinese censorship policies. By challenging the often tetchy government, Google appears to have violated an unspoken rule of doing business in China, especially in the Internet industry whose control Beijing sees as crucial to maintaining its authoritarian rule.

    “Everybody in the Internet space operates under the good graces of the government, and if the government’s not happy with your partner, you probably are going to have to change,” said T.R. Harrington, founder and CEO of Shanghai-based Darwin Marketing, which specializes in advertising for China’s search engine market. “There’s no upside in China, there’s only downside.”

    Signs quickly appeared that some ties forged over Google’s nearly four years operating in China were unraveling. Tianya.cn, a popular portal with 32 million registered users, said it was taking full control over social networking and question-and-answer services operated jointly with Google. A company spokesman declined to say if the government exerted pressure but said in a statement that the takeover was being done to “guarantee each product, normal business and good operations.”

    Industry executives said that Google’s revenues were diving as companies shied away from placing new ads with the search engine. Deals with China’s top two mobile companies were also in doubt.

    In Hong Kong, executives with China Unicom Ltd., the listed unit of one of China’s biggest mobile phone companies, hinted that it would shelve plans to offer two cell phones running Google’s Android program.

    Asked by reporters if the deal to offer the phones made by Motorola and Samsung was still moving forward, China Unicom chairman Chang Xiaobing said the company was “open to cooperation with all the vendors but at the same time we need to abide by the laws and regulations in China.”

    Publicly, Google’s Tokyo-based spokeswoman Jessica Powell said it was continuing to work with Chinese business partners, even providing some of them with censored search services to abide by existing contracts.

    But the souring atmosphere came only a day after Google announced that it closed its China-based search engine and began redirecting queries to its google.cn search engine to the uncensored google.com.hk in Hong Kong. Though part of China, Hong Kong has a semiautonomous status due to its past history as a British colony, and Google is not legally required to censor results there.

    Mainland users rerouted to the Hong Kong site still come up against Chinese government Web filters — collectively known as the Great Firewall — that automatically weed out anything considered pornographic or politically sensitive before it can reach computers in China. The company’s move, in effect, shifts the handling of the censorship from Google to the government.

    Beijing initially seemed to shrug off Google’s move. A government statement called the move “totally wrong” while a Foreign Ministry spokesman appeared to dismiss it as an isolated business case.

    The People’s Daily newspaper on Wednesday was more shrill, accusing Google in a front-page commentary of cooperating with U.S. intelligence forces and suggesting its decision to move its search engine to Hong Kong was a salvo by U.S. Internet warriors.

    “Considering the United States’ big push in recent years to prepare for Internet war, perhaps this could be an exploratory pre-dawn battle,” said the commentary in the newspaper’s overseas edition.

    While the U.S. State Department has said it was not involved in Google’s decision over its search engine, a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton championing Internet freedom added to Beijing’s concerns about collusion and aggravated recently tense U.S.-China relations.

    Google’s troubles also added to growing pessimism in the U.S. and European business community that a richer, more powerful China was less in need of foreign investment and technology. New rules to promote indigenous innovation and favor local technology in government procurement have brought protests from Western chambers of commerce in China that Beijing was closing off access to the domestic market.

    Given those dynamics, Google is likely to face a tough road to rehabilitation in the China market, Chinese and foreign Internet analysts said.

    “They are certainly going to suffer and they are going to be spending years rebuilding their reputation with the people who are trying to market inside of China and proving they can offer a decent service in the PRC. Trust me, they aren’t walking away from this unhurt,” said David Wolf, president of Wolf Group Asia, a technology marketing consultant in Beijing.

  5. r v
    March 25th, 2010 at 06:32 | #5

    Google certain shot itself in the foot.

    It might be able to afford the political flak, but its business partners mostly cannot.

    Now its partners are scrambling to recover from this mess. In the future, the other Google partners will have to consider, “what if Google decides to take another political stands against another Chinese law that it doesn’t like? will we have to scramble to recover?”

  6. Geoff from the US
    March 25th, 2010 at 15:49 | #6

    I would like to say something that my Father pointed out, I am 16 and in School right now in the US. It has to do with Intellectual Property, in that many parts of the world don’t seem to care at all about it. I went on a student exchange program to Argentina in South America last year for the year and everything was pirated, and from what I know China is the same in that regard. What im trying to get to has to do with there accusations that the Hackers were in China, and for many Americans, they might think that the Government would be involved. Google and other company’s don’t like having there stuff stolen from them, and some people in the US don’t see the Chinese government fighting it. Can you tell me what that sort of thing is like in China, Hacking and Software Piracy?

  7. Geoff from the US
    March 25th, 2010 at 15:52 | #7

    @Geoff from the US
    Wow, I screwed that comment up. I mean Piracy in regards to Music, Programs, Windows. And then Google’s accusation that the people that got into there systems were based in China. China’s response of give us some proof, not really pointing out that they were concerned or looking into it themselves at all did not help, at least in my eyes.

  8. r v
    March 25th, 2010 at 17:27 | #8

    Geoff,

    The Hacking and piracy problems are two problems, but first of all, you have some great misconceptions here.

    1st misconception: Hacking and IP piracy problems are greater outside of US. In fact, that is not true. The American Intellectual Property Law Association, (AIPLA) published an article in their journal which compiled total statistics of IP piracy around the world. US, per capita, has comparable piracy of movies, music, and software as any where else in the world. China is actually behind US, Russia, and UK.

    Many of the first hacking SW are also done in Russia and US. Similarly, most computer viruses and hack attacks originate from US and Russia.

    2nd misconception: China and elsewhere outside of US don’t care about enforcing IP as US does.

    AIPLA also point out, that piracy of IP maybe more visible in China and outside of US, but that is not a true reflection of effectiveness of IP laws in each country.

    In US and Europe, pirated material are exchanged via the internet, as compared to China, India, where one buy pirated material from street vendors.

    However, in reality, IP laws in US have not truly indicated their effectiveness in combating piracy. In totality, there have been only a handful of US prosecutions of cases of IP piracy. And some cases in US are deemed as innocent violations, (such as some old grandmother who was accused of distribution of pirated material, and she does not even know how to use a computer). some of these cases are often dropped entirely in US.

    (But in comparison, how would an old Chinese street vendor lady be any more guilty of violating IP in distributing pirated movies than the old grandmother in US?!)

    3rd misconception: Americans care more about IP protection.

    I would simply point out the statistics I cited above. Furthermore, every new piece of technology used for piracy and hacking, often came from US, including Bittorrent, napster, etc.

    *
    On the Chinese government’s response to Google, actually, Google never even bothered to file a grievance.

    How is any government supposed to “respond,” when there is nothing beyond what Google generally alleged?

    Seriously, what kind of answer does Google want? Who does Google wants China to charge?

    In US, it is the responsibility of individual IP owners to file complaints and initiate investigations by cooperating with authorities.

    If there is no complaint, there is no case.

    That’s simply the law.

  9. shingai
    April 1st, 2010 at 09:02 | #9

    Love this site, by the way. I’m Zimbabwean by blood and American by nationality, but I do feel a stronger affinity for Confucian and Taoist cultural values, as I personally value societal stability more than people allowing to simply say/do whatever they feel like, no matter how poisonous and destabilizing the exercise of “freedom” may be. Given how political debate occurs in the US and the nature of the policies it generates, the argument for the superiority of the Liberal/”Democratic” political value system is more emotional (despite its “rational” 18th century roots) than it is logical or empirical.

    In terms of this specific article, you did strike a cord with what I was thinking when I read the “Good” vs “Evil” argument on this same blog. Google’s argument does read like neo-colonialism. There was a poster (I think rv?) who mentioned a more insidious reason for Google’s entrance into China – Google (for good or for evil) does have an extreme amount of control…in a very organized fashion…over its user’s personal data. Couple that with the fact that its most recent search algorithm indexes social media content, you can make the argument that Google controls (or has the ability to control) the way we think and see the world in much the same manner that it claims CCP does. It already exerts that control over its American users latently – access to China must read like incredible dollar signs to the Finance guys at Google. And of course, their arguments about the benefits of their services read like Kiplings “The White Man’s Burden” – “we’re bringing freedoms to the Chinese people” etc.

    Everyone drinks some kind of ideological koolaide. Liberalism is appealing because it strips people of accountability – “I’m free to do whatever I want; look at porn, promote my hateful concept of the world, play my mindless computer games.” Westerners don’t (or perhaps refuse to) accept the costs of those freedoms: pissing off people who don’t make enough to feed their kids because companies in their native lands are busy making throwaway McDonald’s toys for overfed American children, destabilizing other countries by forcing open markets for gluttonous American companies to ciphon resources and money into bank accounts of overpaid executives, etc.

    This freedom, so highly lauded and yet so often abused, is the fuel of terrorism – it gives the Haves license to take away so much from the have-nots that the have-nots feel that they have nothing to lose by embracing nihilistic philosophies and blowing themselves up in public places. The American government seems to focus more on accommodating the irresponsibility of its citizens (both the rich and the poor) than it does in promoting balanced growth.

    I can’t speak about the CCP as I am not Chinese and have not been to China. But I do admire governments that are not afraid to take a stand against their most petulant citizens.

    Honestly, as much as I like choice and the freedom to air my opinions, I recognize the need for self-censorship and self-moderation. There is just so much on the air in the US that doesn’t need to be heard, so much junk. And given the low priority Americans place on education (parents say “well, isn’t it the school’s job to teach my kids stuff? oh by the way that math is too hard, let’s make it easier and more fun…”), there is a large population of people unable to filter what makes sense and what is garbage.

    Imagine, in this health care debate, you had people that would actually benefit financially from the Health Care Plan committing what would be considered acts of terrorism if they were Muslim because they were brainwashed by guys like Glenn Beck who will degrade themselves with their own words just to get ratings (and make money).

    I’ve been watching this Google vs China issue like a football match. I’m not sure if the Chinese ruling class aspires to dominate the world the way the West has for the past 500 years or so, but I’m certainly rooting for China in this fight. It’s time the colonized fight back.

  10. shingai
    April 1st, 2010 at 09:18 | #10

    An additional note, and I guess this relates to China’s historical isolationism (at least from the 1400’s, was it?):

    The most successful social groups are those that have a high barrier to entry and exit. Basically, they have a great system of bottlenecking and filtering information that insiders have access to. If you look at the most successful groups in the US – Mormons, Jews, Koreans, Indians, Chinese, Scientologists even – it is difficult for outsiders to waltz in and out at will. You have to prove your desire to join – and in some cases, you can only be born into the group. These groups exile the idiots and dissenters toute suite, and shield themselves pretty well from the general crap around them (and most information out there – esp on the web – if we’re honest, is not particularly useful or valuable, mostly just innanities or outright garbage).

    I’ve thought a lot about the reasons why China has been able to stay together as a single political entity for thousands of years while political divisions are drawn and redrawn in the West with destabilizing frequency. A lot of it has to do with the lack of homogeneity of race, culture, religion, etc in the West and the fact that the homogeneity that is created is centered around material concepts such as capitalism and money and empty ideals such as “the pursuit of happiness” that can be easily bastardized. In other words, the “value system” is in constant flux and fields of thought seek compartmentalization and separation, rather than unity (a key East/West difference).

    I guess I have a theory that this is the driving force behind what Westerners perceive as Chinese “authoritarian censorship.” An effort to protect citizens (and society at large) from importing poisonous information that can spread quickly and destabilize the country. I can’t say that that is a worse form of government than one that very clearly places a higher premium on good PR than substantive results.

  11. April 1st, 2010 at 10:33 | #11

    @shingai

    Welcome to HH and thx for your thoughtful comments. I generally agree with your observations. Will write a longer response in few days. You have hit a lot of the main points we constantly think about. 🙂

    Indeed, this idea of governance has largely been ignored where we think the Chinese government has done particularly well in the last 3 decades given their circumstances.

  12. shingai
    April 1st, 2010 at 12:20 | #12

    Indeed. People also don’t give the Chinese government much credit in how well they are able to manage such a huge population. Imagine a country of 2 Billion where everyone felt it was their god-given right to do whatever they hell they felt like doing all the time! Chaos!

  13. April 5th, 2010 at 23:42 | #13

    @shingai #9, #10, #12

    Again, thx for your great comments.

    1. “… I personally value societal stability..”

    I have a feeling this value is shared by many parts of the world. The U.S. for the last couple of centuries did not have to worry about it.

    Here is how the Chinese people feel (which I wrote about couple of months ago):

    毛阿敏 (Mao AMin), 渴望 (”Yearning”), yearning for a better future

    2. “Liberalism is appealing because it strips people of accountability -”

    I completely agree – at least the version as espoused in the Western media.

    “r v” made this argument that since the U.S. is a “democracy”, the citizens ought to take responsibility for the collective actions of the country. But, that never happens.

    It’s a major disconnect.

    I think this is why the Chinese view the Westerners as often resorting to the “might is right” as a major principal in international affairs. The rest of the world has to come together and change that – for a better overall future.

    3. “There is just so much on the air in the US that doesn’t need to be heard, so much junk.”

    Indeed. The average American cannot possibly spend enough time to coprehend all the nuances that affect public policy at the national or international level.

    This democracy is then hijacked by the “most benefit in front of me” type of PR. That goes hand in hand with #2.

    I met someone couple of months ago who personally knew Deng Xiaoping. He said that Deng told him he used to tease a U.S. president (I forgot which one) that U.S. presidents say one thing before elections and do another while in office.

    4.

    “I’ve thought a lot about the reasons why China has been able to stay together as a single political entity for thousands of years while political divisions are drawn and redrawn in the West with destabilizing frequency. A lot of it has to do with the lack of homogeneity of race, culture, religion, etc in the West and the fact that the homogeneity that is created is centered around material concepts such as capitalism and money and empty ideals such as “the pursuit of happiness” that can be easily bastardized. In other words, the “value system” is in constant flux and fields of thought seek compartmentalization and separation, rather than unity (a key East/West difference).”

    This is a really interesting observation, shingai. The underlying cohesion, for example, in the U.S. has never been fully tested in the last few generations of Americans. U.S. has not been invaded and have its territories subject to division like many parts of our world. The ideologies of “freedom” and “democracy” are actually weakened in my opinion as these were excuses to do so much damage around the world. What would serve to unite this country if it one day becomes very weak? For resource or economically rich states at that time, would they consider separation?

    5.

    “I guess I have a theory that this is the driving force behind what Westerners perceive as Chinese “authoritarian censorship.” An effort to protect citizens (and society at large) from importing poisonous information that can spread quickly and destabilize the country. I can’t say that that is a worse form of government than one that very clearly places a higher premium on good PR than substantive results.”

    I also think Westerners automatically think that the Chinese population are “secluded” into their own world – U.S. media often like to conjure up this image of the Internet within China as an “intranet” that is excluded from the rest of the world.

    However, this is wrong. If you look at the number of Chinese students studying abroad. If you look at the number of languages Chinese people are able to read/write.

    Now, look at the number of Americans who are able to converse in Chinese. The ratio might be 1000:1. If we want a sense of the flow of information and ideas between the two countries, I think it is more like the U.S. is on its own “intranet.”

  14. Geoff from the US
    April 6th, 2010 at 07:05 | #14

    @YinYang

    I think you have misconceptions about how we view the Censorship.

    I know that there are many more people in the world who can speak English then Americans who can speak those languages, but with Chinese censorship, that is irreverent to us. Our problem is that you cant even see some things on the internet, while we can see those things, even if we cant understand it. If we really want to we can get it translated. Plus Foreign Languages are FINALLY starting to be taught at schools here, and many good University’s have requirements for them, including Chinese.

  15. April 6th, 2010 at 12:16 | #15

    @Geoff, #14

    No, I don’t think we have misconceptions. Yes, I understand some Google’s services are blocked and some anti-Chinese government web sites are blocked.

    “Our problem is that you cant even see some things on the internet, while we can see those things, even if we cant understand it.”

    This is basically the key. You have already self-censored yourselves and not realizing it. Your self-censorship is WAY BIGGER compared to the Chinese government blocking those sites they deem harmful to Chinese society. In my opinion, you are talking about form and I am talking about substance.

    During President Obama’s last visit to China, he announced more student exchanges and expanding foreign language studies in the U.S. – as you have alluded to. I agree, this is a very good development for the U.S..

    You can talk about Facebook, but the Chinese people are fine with their Ren Ren. I am supportive of the Chinese government blocking hate speech and other sites that are generally blocked by other countries. If Facebook wants the Chinese market, then the company has to learn to comply with Chinese laws.

  16. r v
    April 6th, 2010 at 16:07 | #16

    Geoff,

    I think part of the problem is cultural.

    Americans (Westerners) generally see no harm in letting “free speech” out in the public.

    However, Westerners generally also do not admit that they have some prejudices against some speech, and do not admit that they would want those speech banned if possible.

    Every culture has some pet peeves about some sensitive topics that they don’t want other people to dwell on. (That’s the basic truth).

    For the Turks, it’s the Armenian “genocide.”

    For the Japanese, it’s WWII.

    For Europeans, it’s colonialism and slavery. (without actually getting into the specific atrocities. and there are lots of them.)

    Imagine if Fox and CNN are owned by some Chinese corporations, and they are broadcasting and highlighting every instances of racial hatred and bigotry in US and Europe.

    How would the US public perceive such “media”?

    *Tokyo Rose and propaganda would not be far from the minds.

    And how would the US public perceive the Chinese public, if the average Chinese people believed that US and Europe are as bad as portrayed and lots of Chinese NGO’s are calling to boycott US and European goods?

    *I do not believe such “free speech” at the expense of truth would be good for the Chinese people or the American people, in the hypothetical situation or the contrary but real world situation.

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