The battle between Google and China is heating up.
China defends censorship after Google threat (Reuters)
Beijing is firing back against Google in what can only be described as New Speak:
“China’s Internet is open and the Chinese government encourages development of the Internet,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said when asked to comment on Google.
“Open” must have a completely different meaning in Chinese than in any English dictionary I have read.
Then it all becomes clear. Jiang continued:
“China welcomes international Internet businesses developing services in China according to the law.
Chinese law, as we have seen all too often, means making sure no impure thoughts such as open discussion or free press enter the society.
To make the point clear:
In an online statement, Minister Wang Chen of the State Council Information Office warned against pornography, cyber-attacks, online fraud and “rumors,” saying that government and Internet media have a responsibility to shape public opinion.
I like that line: “shape public opinion.” That line alone underscores just how the Chinese government sees all media: as a tool of the state and nothing more. Anything that deviates from the official line is outlawed.
The fight with Google also offers another means for Beijing to whip up nationalistic feelings against “Western imperialism.”
The dispute drew an outpouring of nationalistic fervor from China’s online community, with some “netizens” cheering it as a victory for the Chinese.
So, if becoming isolated and keeping your people ignorant of events and trends in the rest of the world is a victory, then maybe the Chinese “netizens” cited above are right.
But others in China are not so sure losing Google is such a good idea.
He Ye, a woman at the vigil, said finding alternative news would become more difficult if Google pulled out of China.
“If I cannot search for it through Google, I’d feel I lose a part of my life,” she said.
There are a lot of issues involved in this situation.
- Was it the hack attack that woke up Google to what the Chinese government was doing to the Internet?
- Was it international pressure against Google for playing along with the Chinese censors?
- Was it that Google is being creamed by Baidu, a government-friendly Chinese search engine?
Beijing has already launched a campaign through its proxies that Google is leaving because Baidu is more popular. And they are tying that to the nationalistic campaign that a home-grown Chinese search engine is beating the world’s major search engine.
Google currently holds around a third of the Chinese search market, far behind Chinese rival Baidu with more than 60%.
It has taken Google a while to realize that it was being used by the Chinese government to present to the world an air of civility. It’s nice to see that Google has opened its eyes (publicly) about what is going on.
And to be sure, I am not advocating that all Western companies should pull out of China. A search engine/news aggregator such as Google is different from Coke or GM. I remember back in the mid-1990s when I lived in Shanghai how the American companies were looked up to by the Chinese staff because the Americans came in with the idea that competence meant more than party affiliation. A number of American supervisors stood up to the party hacks within the Chinese partnerships to defend honest and competent workers.
“I like the Americans because they tell us the rules of the company and then they follow them,” one mid-level Chinese office worker once told me. “They don’t keep changing the rules or making special exceptions for party leaders.”
On that level the presence of US companies is a benefit to the Chinese people because it shows them there are other ways to run things instead of an arbitrary dictatorship.
But when an information company — such as Google — is blocked from doing its primary job, that cannot and should not be allowed. Let us not forget that Beijing has regularly tried to restrict what foreign news organizations can do as well. And has had to back off on some of the more inane plans.