BEIJING: An official with China's State Council Information Office on Wednesday said Chinese Internet authorities were seeking more information on Google's statement that it could quit China.
The high-ranking official, who requested anonymity, made the remarks in a phone interview with Xinhua after Google's corporate development and chief legal officer, David Drummond, posted a statement on the company's official blog, saying it was to "review the feasibility of our business operations in China."
"It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows," the Chinese official said.
He refused to reveal more, but promised to follow the case and accept more interviews if possible.
The China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center deputy director Xi Wei told Xinhua: "I am sorry, I can't say anything. I am not clear about the case."
Google's possible retreat from China has prompted the company's 700 China staff to fear for their jobs.
"We were told that Google might quit China at a general meeting on Wednesday morning, and all of us feel very sad," said an employee with Google's Beijing office on condition of anonymity.
Drummond's post said that its disputes with the government and unidentified attacks targeting Google's services in China forced the company to make the review.
However, Google.cn was still posting this rider on its searches as of 6:15 pm on Wednesday: "According to local laws, regulations and policies, some research results are not shown."
Google had been blamed by the government for showing too many links to pornographic contents and breaking the law.
Drummond's post also indicated the possibility that Google may "shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."
If Google did quit China, about 700 employees with the company's offices around China would lose their jobs, the anonymous employee said.
In a short reply to Xinhua questions on Wednesday, a public relations officer of Google China who preferred not to be identified, said, "We are proud of our achievements in China. Currently we are reviewing the decision and hoping for a resolution."
Drummond's post also said Google would try to negotiate with the Chinese government for "more favorable" operating conditions in China.
Guo Ke, professor of mass communication at Shanghai International Studies University, said it was "almost impossible" for Google to quit China and also impossible for the Chinese government to give up its management right over the Internet.
"It will not make any difference to the government if Google quits China, however Google will suffer a huge economic loss from leaving the Chinese market," Guo said.
According to the iResearch Consulting Group, the Chinese search engine market reached nearly 7 billion yuan (about $1 billion) in 2009, and Google took 32.8 percent in revenue in the third-quarter while China's home-grown search engine Baidu claimed 63.8 percent.
"I think Google is just playing cat and mouse, and trying to use netizens' anger or disappointment as leverage," Guo said.
Millions of Chinese are fans and loyal users of Google and its services such as Gmail, Gtalk and Picasa. Many Chinese journalists, like other users, rely on Google Docs to save useful information and contacts.
So far, few comments were available from Chinese Internet companies or related government departments.
Zhang Yi, an employee with Baidu.com, Google's biggest rival in China, told Xinhua she had heard of Google's statement but would not comment.
An official with China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the ministry's spokesperson was not available for comment.
If Google quit, it would leave a huge hole in the market for other search engines in China to fill, said Liu Dan, a researcher with a Beijing-based consulting company affiliated to the China Center for Information Industry Development.
"The Chinese market welcomes competition, but maybe Google should also think more about adapting to China, rather than just working in its US way without flexibility," Liu said.