Op-Ed Contributors

Google's exit a deliberate plot

By Ding Yifan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-25 07:48
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Editor's note: Google’s moves are combined with Washington’s tongue. The US company finally exits when it’s able to achieve neither business survival nor political aims.

Search engine leader has been part of the US' foreign strategy; its departure opens the door for domestic and foreign rivals

After two months of intense spats with the Chinese government, Google said on Monday it would shut down the mainland-based Google.cn search services and redirect the mainland's web users to Hong Kong.

In January, the world's leading search engine threatened to leave after alleged cyber-attacks in the mainland. Google said it would no longer filter its Chinese-language search results, a commitment that it agreed to when the company launched its search operations in China in January 2006.

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Google's withdrawal is not a purely commercial act. The incident has from the beginning been implicated in Washington's political games with China.

A few days before Google made its announcement, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lavishly praised US Internet companies for their role in helping the Obama administration realize its foreign policies, at a lunch with chief executives of Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Google's exit a deliberate plot

Clinton in particular sang of their positive role in instilling US political stances and values into Georgian and Iranian street politics to sway local public opinion.

Given that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have no access to the Chinese Internet market, the White House believes that Google alone cannot play a large role in China as it did in Georgia and Iran.

As expectated, days after the enlightening lunch, Google announced its withdrawal of its search service from the world's largest Internet market on charges that it could not tolerate strict Internet censorship required by the Chinese government. Immediately after its announcement, Clinton made a speech in support of Google's "Internet freedom" campaign.

Google has enjoyed intimate links with the Obama administration. The company was one of the four major sponsors of US President Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. It also played an important role in helping Obama's team raise election funds.

After the Obama administration was sworn in, some senior Google managerial staff members were successively recruited to important government posts. Such close connections between the two make it natural for Google to be devoted to serve the Obama administration's foreign strategy.

The search engine leader's exit from the Chinese mainland is a deliberate plot. The charge that it is opposed to China's "hacker attacks" and "Internet censorship" not only sounds reasonable, but also caters to the prejudices cultivated in the Western public toward the Chinese government. Google's case is in essence part of the US' Internet intrusive strategy worldwide under the excuse that it advocates a free Internet.

Google's accusations against China are completely groundless. The company has so far failed to submit any convincing evidence of the Chinese government-aided hacker attacks on its search engine. The censorship charges also exposed the engine's ignorance of similar practices prevailing across the world.

Google's services in Germany, France, India and other countries are also under scrutiny. Even in the US, it is not rare for some government agencies to often intrude into private e-mails under the anti-terror pretext.

Many of the US Federal and State laws and acts have clauses to restrict the flow of information on the Internet. In California, Colorado, Nevada, Louisiana and other states, public libraries, schools and Internet service providers (ISP) are required to put measures in place to block juvenile access to pornographic content. As the world's largest filtering software producer, the US has made the world's majority part of information-blocking software.

Google's Monday announcement was also a grudging commercial move amid its gloomy performances in China's market. Compared with Baidu.com, China's largest search engine, Google has lagged behind. It suffered a series of setbacks in the fastest-growing market, especially last year.

Google.cn was accused by China's Internet watchdog in January and April of last year of reserving porn contents and linking to other unhealthy websites.

Consequently, the Chinese agency made a decision in June to temporarily halt Google's outbound search services and its key words search business and urged the engine to rectify the matter.

In September, Kai-Fu Lee, who spearheaded Google's push into the mainland's market, resigned as head of Google China. Lee's departure was followed by successive resignations of other Google employees and the standoff of some of its local business.

By exiting from China, Google is by no means a political victim as it claims. Its departure is completely a failed result of competitions with other rivals in the fierce Chinese Internet market.

Google's departure is not expected to cause large losses in China's Internet search business. On the contrary, the unwise move will leave more room for China's homegrown search engines, such as Baidu, to improve and to benefit from its search technologies.

For a long time, some other foreign Internet companies, including those in the US, have been covetous of the world's fastest-growing market. Google's exit as a powerful competitor will leave them more commercial opportunities. Upon its announcement, Microsoft, which has been vying with Google for the market share in search software, issued a statement saying foreign companies should only abide by local laws and rules to keep their business thriving.

The author is a researcher at the Development Research Center under the State Council.

Google's exit a deliberate plot

(China Daily 03/25/2010 page8)