Google alters name of disputed South China Sea reef

So it’s official folks.  Google has altered the name of of a disputed South China Sea reef on its map from Huangyan Island to Scarborough Shoal.  Since Google says so, it must be so.  Has to be so.

Here is CNN’s take on the story:

Hong Kong (CNN)Google says it has altered its map of a disputed reef in the South China Sea, removing its Chinese name in favor of what it says is its internationally recognized moniker.

Google changed the name to Scarborough Shoal after objections from people living in the Philippines. A petition posted on Change.org said Google Maps had identified the territory as part of China’s Zhongsha Islands.

The shoal, which Filipinos call Panatag, is part of a number of islands and reefs in the area being claimed by several countries, including the Philippines.

“We made the fix in line with our long-standing global policy on depicting disputed regions in a way that does not endorse or affirm the position taken by any side,” a Google spokesperson said.

The move has not gone down well with some Chinese Internet users.”My patriotic fellow countrymen, please check your phones and computers and uninstall the Google products, kicking Google out of China,” said one user of Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.

Congratulations Google for making this very, very important “fix”!

The change is a completely “neutral” thing.  I completely understand.  Google is not taking side.  The timing and the public political rancor displayed the U.S. and its “allies” notwithstanding, Google is just being objective and reasonable.

What’s next?  Changing the name S. China Sea to W. Philippines Sea … or perhaps even E. Vietnam Sea?  How about changing E. China Sea to W. Japan Sea … or Sea of Japan to Sea of Korea as some of my Korean friends would have?

This little story tells us yet again the danger of relying on Google so much so that it defines our worldview.  Anti-Chinese activists know that billions of people blindly rely on and trust Google.  Whatever Google says, it is fact, it is real, it is … LAW.

It confirms to me yet again the pervasive effect of having a dominant company like Google troll the world.  People may think Google provides many wonderful “free” services.  Nothing however is “free.”  Truth is: not only does Google mine your personal emails for profit, but also censor (hmm, filter) search results in a way that is palatable to its economic and political interests.  And that’s just scratching the surface: Google gets to define your worldview in so many other ways, such as choosing what names to display on its maps, dictating what apps are available on android phones, etc.  It conducts mass surveillance and espionage for the U.S. government.  It is not a freedom oasis, it is a gatekeeper and a toll keeper.

This is another reason I was relieved when Google chose to opt out of China.  Market force is an awesome thing in this day and age.  With Google choosing to give up China, at least there is preservation of an alternative ecosystem of information.  How “good” that system is is irrelevant for the time being (all systems are forever evolving).  It is sufficient that there are viable alternatives.  There is no “free” or “universal” Internet.  The map confirms that. The sooner people realize that, the better.

On a parting note, I want to note that on Google Map, the tallest mountain in the World is labelled “Mount Everest” – named after a 19th century British surveyor.  The local and traditional names for the mountain includes Chomolungma, Jomo Miyolangsangma or Qomolangma in Tibetan, Sagarmāthā in Nepalese, Zhu Mu Lang Ma in Chinese (sometimes also casually Xi La Ma Ya Shan – e.g. Himalaya Peak), and Gauri Shankar in Hindi … among others. None of this made it to Google Map, of course. In the Himalayas as well as in S. China Sea, rich histories and traditions and peoples will continue to lie beyond the grasp of Google and its new digital imperialism.  But they were there long before Google, and will be there long after Google….

2 thoughts on “Google alters name of disputed South China Sea reef

  1. I totally agree with your post, although I have reservations about Baidu as a search engine. It’s slow, indirect, and you have to wade through all those pornographic advertisings to get anything. Google made a mistake in opting out of the China market and I think they regret it.

  2. I wouldn’t disagree with you. Google search is better than Baidu search today. My point was that given that Google will answer to American laws, and will “censor” in other nations around the world, but will not answer to Chinese laws, I am glad they are out rather than in.

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