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China response took Google by surprise

world Updated: Mar 25, 2010 00:11 IST
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Google executives are calculating the next step in their escalating conflict with Beijing, after the Chinese government’s fierce response to the censorship battle took the company by surprise.

Faced with Google’s decision to push Chinese search engine users to its uncensored Hong Kong website, government officials on Tuesday issued a strong statement calling the Californian internet giant “totally wrong” and suggesting it had “violated its written promise” with the authorities.

While Google executives were aware that a reaction from the authorities was a possibility, insiders say that the severity of the response has shocked senior figures at the Californian internet giant - particularly since they believed the move to Hong Kong was part of an unofficial deal that had been brokered with the Chinese government.

That belief, the Guardian understands, came after two months of intense negotiations which started when Google threatened to lift the censorship of its search engine in protest at a hacking attack traced back to China. While the government denied culpability and both sides took strong positions in public, intermediaries spent several weeks working behind the scenes to secure an agreement.

The end result, put into action on Monday, was to redirect users of the self-censored google.cn service to Google’s uncensored Hong Kong search engine.

Despite the fact that Hong Kong remains under the overall control of Beijing, however, Google searches are still effectively censored because the site is subject to China’s so-called “Great Firewall” — the system for blocking and filtering websites that the authorities deem dangerous or offensive.