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Google leaves, China wipes clean its traces

In New York, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the “story’s not over yet”. In Beijing, an official spokesman said Google was “totally wrong”. And in the Chinese capital’s Silicon Valley, youngsters left flowers at the Google building.

business Updated: Mar 24, 2010 00:14 IST
Reshma Patil and Agencies

In New York, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the “story’s not over yet”. In Beijing, an official spokesman said Google was “totally wrong”. And in the Chinese capital’s Silicon Valley, youngsters left flowers at the Google building.

Late on Monday night, the Internet giant shut its Chinese website and shifted its search engine services to uncensored Hong Kong after two months of confrontation with Beijing over censorship and alleged hacking attacks. But those rerouted to Hong Kong still couldn’t access sensitive websites as these were blocked by Chinese filters.

“The Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal
requirement,” Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond wrote on a blog post — inaccessible in Beijing on Tuesday. “We are well aware it could at any time block access to our services,” he said.

Google’s bold censure of the business environment in the world’s number three economy — and the biggest online market of 384 million netizens — left the fate of its future China operations in doubt.

The NYT said China’s biggest cellular communications firm, China Mobile, may “under government pressure” cancel a deal that placed Google’s search engine on its mobile Internet home page. China Unicom, the second-largest mobile player, was said to
have “delayed or killed the imminent start of a cellphone based on Google’s Android platform”.

Analysts speculated whether Google’s R&D and advertising operations with about 600 staff in Beijing would now thrive.

“You sort of make China look like the bad guy and you think you’re going to be selling Google phones? Good luck,” Colin Gillis, analyst for BGC Financial, told Reuters.

Soon after Google’s announcement, Beijing lashed out by calling the action “totally wrong” and saying it “violated the written promise” it made four years ago, when it arrived, promising to self-censor online services as required by Chinese law. The official media had recently launched a campaign accusing Google of trying to export western culture into China.

Later, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the exit would not affect Sino-US relations unless someone politicised the issue.

Rebecca MacKinnon, a Hong Kong-based expert on Chinese Internet, wrote on her blog - also inaccessible in Beijing - that “the ball is now in the Chinese government’s court”.

She said: “If they are smart, they will leave the situation as is and stop drawing media attention to their censorship practices. The longer this high-profile fracas goes on, the greater Chinese Internet users’ awareness will be about the lengths to which their government goes to blinker their knowledge of the world.” China believes its citizens need strict censorship. It blocked YouTube after the Tibet riots in March 2008, fearing the spread of mass unrest through the Internet.

Facebook and Twitter were blocked after the Xinjiang riots in July 2009.

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