BEIJING - Google Inc will stop redirecting Chinese online users to its Hong Kong site in an attempt to renew its license for Google.cn, which is set to expire on Wednesday, the Internet search giant said on Tuesday.
The Chinese government has told US-based Google that re-routing users to Hong Kong is an "unacceptable" approach and said it would not renew its Internet Content Provider (ICP) license, said David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer.
The ICP license is a permit issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to allow websites to operate in China. The authority has the right to shut down any website that fails to get an ICP license or have its license renewed, according to Chinese regulations.
Drummond said on his company blog on Tuesday that Google has instead started to provide a landing page on Google.cn that links to Google.com.hk and has "re-submitted" its ICP license renewal application.
"Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like Google.cn - so Google would effectively go dark in China," Drummond said.
"This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on Google.cn and gives users access to all of our services from one page," he said.
MIIT spokesman Wang Lijian told China Daily that he was not aware of Google's announcement. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang also said he had not seen Google's announcement, but noted that "the government encourages foreign enterprises to operate in China according to law".
Google said on Tuesday at its landing page on Google.cn that the company has moved its services to Hong Kong and reminded users of the Hong Kong site's address.
Marsha Wang, spokesperson for Google China, said the company is still waiting for response from the government. She refused to comment on whether Google will shut down its China offices if it failed to renew its license.
Google risks losing many users who do not want to follow the search engine to its other sites manually, industry analysts said.
"Not redirecting users automatically will have a huge impact on Google's business because many Chinese users don't want to bother following the search engine manually," said Edward Yu, president of domestic research firm Analysys International.
The search giant's market share in China fell to 30.9 percent in the first quarter from 35.6 percent three months earlier, figures from Analysys showed.
Yu said the impact of Google's announcement in March to move to Hong Kong was limited because users could hardly feel the switch.
"But this time the impacts are for real," he said.