Google move won’t affect Sino-US ties unless ‘politicised’

Bien Perez and Agencies
23 March 2010

Beijing said on Tuesday that Google’s decision to stop censoring its search results in the country would not affect relations with Washington, unless the issue were to be “politicised”.

“I don’t see it influencing Sino-US relations unless some people want to politicise it,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

“If you link this to China-US relations or politicise it, or even link it to China’s international image, this is mere overkill,” he said.

He described the Google situation as “mainly an individual commercial case,” and reiterated that China administers the internet according to law.

Google said on Monday that it would no longer filter results on China-based Google.cn and was redirecting mainland users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong – effectively closing down the mainland site.

The move followed a two-month impasse since Google threatened to close down its business on the mainland in response to alleged massive domestic cyber-attacks and its decision to stop censoring online search results to Google.cn.

Google has also decided not to totally withdraw from the mainland as it promised to maintain its research and development efforts in Beijing, which the South China Morning Post reported last week as the likely strategy the internet firm would pursue.

“We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced – it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China,” said David Drummond, the senior vice-president for corporate development and chief legal officer at United States-based Google.

The fate of the US internet giant in the mainland is one of a number of issues that has dogged Sino-US ties in recent months, and Beijing has warned Google it would face “consequences” if it were to stop filtering its search results.

The White House said on Monday that it was “disappointed” that Google and Beijing had been unable to reach an agreement, and said it had raised the case with Beijing on several occasions.

The administration of US President Barack Obama is “committed to internet freedom and… opposed to censorship,” National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.

“While we seek to expand co-operation on issues of mutual interest with China, we will candidly and frankly address areas of disagreement.”

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Beijing would handle the Google case in accordance with Chinese law, and again said Beijing welcomed foreign businesses – so long as they abide by the law.

“China’s market is fully open,” Qin said.

Earlier on Tuesday Beijing had reacted quickly to the move announced by Google.

A statement from an unnamed official from the China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO), issued by the official Xinhua news agency and other official mainland media described Google’s actions as “totally wrong”.

“Foreign companies operating in China must abide by Chinese laws. Google has violated the written promise it made on entering the Chinese market. It is totally wrong in halting [censorship] filtering of its search provider and also making aspersions and accusations towards China about hacking attacks. We firmly oppose politicising commercial issues, and express our dissatisfaction and anger at Google’s unreasonable accusations and practices.”

Google earlier on Tuesday stopped censoring its various services – including Google Search, Google News and Google Images – on Google.cn.

“Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong,” Drummond said.

“Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk.”

Due to the increased load on its Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of the changes made, Google’s mainland users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as the internet firm switches everything over to the city.

The official from the SCIO noted that Google announced its complaints over China’s censorship and hacking attacks from within the country on January 12.

“After repeated requests from Google, and to hear its real views face-to-face and demonstrate China’s sincerity, on January 29 and February 25 of this year responsible officials from China’s relevant authorities held talks with Google, and offered patient and detailed explanations about the issues raised.”

“They stressed that foreign companies in China should abide by Chinese laws, and if Google is willing to abide by Chinese laws, we continue to welcome it operating and developing in China. If Google insists on dismantling the search service of its Chinese website, that is Google’s own affair. But it must follow Chinese law and international custom, and responsibly handle the aftermath.

“The Chinese government encourages the development and spread of the internet, and promotes the opening of the internet to the outside world. Discussion and expression on China’s internet are very lively, and digital commerce is developing rapidly. The facts demonstrate that China has a healthy environment for investing in and developing the internet. China will unwaveringly adhere to a guiding policy of opening up, and it welcomes participation by foreign businesses in developing the Chinese internet.”

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