Google ’99% Certain’ to Shut China Search Engine

The Financial Times has the latest in the ongoing saga of Google in China:

Google has drawn up detailed plans for the closure of its Chinese search engine and is now “99.9 per cent” certain to go ahead as talks over censorship with the Chinese authorities have reached an apparent impasse, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking.

In a hardening of positions on both sides, the Chinese government also yesterday threw down a direct public challenge to the US search company, with a warning that it was not prepared to compromise on internet censorship to stop Google leaving.

The signs that Google was on the brink of closing Google.cn, its local search service in China, came two months after it promised to stop bowing to censorship there. But while a decision could be made very soon, the company is likely to take some time to follow through with the plan as it seeks an orderly closure and takes steps to protect local employees from retaliation by the authorities, the person familiar with its position said.

The status of talks between Google and the Chinese government has been unclear following confusing and contradictory statements from both sides. Then, earlier this week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he thought the stand-off with the Chinese government over Internet censorship and cyber attacks would be resolved “soon” but that the company was still committed to ending censorship of its Chinese search engine. His remarks launched speculation that Google was preparing to leave the China market, which a Google spokesperson has since denied. Now, Li Yizhong, China’s minister of industry and information technology, has warned Google against opening Google.cn, the New York Times reports:

Speaking on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress, China’s quasilegislative session, Mr. Li said that he hoped for an amicable resolution to the standoff. But he gave no indication that the government would ease the censorship rules that are at the heart of Google’s ultimatum.

“I hope Google will abide by Chinese laws and regulations,” The Associated Press quoted Mr. Li as saying. But “if you want to do something that disobeys Chinese law and regulations, you are unfriendly, you are irresponsible and you will have to bear the consequences.”

Whether the company chooses to remain in China, he added, is up to Google.

Also from the Wall Street Journal, via PoliticalDog101.com:

Google’s threat to stop censoring challenges the core premise of engagement with China for the last several decades: that the country is so big and its market so important that it must be accepted on its own terms.

Google’s challenge to Beijing stunned the business world. It is unusual for a company to publicly take issue with China’s policies—particularly something as sensitive as censorship—and even rarer for one to talk about the possibility of scaling back its business or leaving a market that is so important.

“If Google does indeed get shut down, it is not the end of the story—it is the beginning,” said Xiao Qiang, the director of the China Internet Project at University of California at Berkeley. It is the beginning of the ‘Chinternet,’ which is under Chinese government regulation. It will control so much that even Google cannot exist. Other companies will have to face the same choice of whether to continue to operate under China’s heavy regulation or leave the country.

Read a report about Li’s statement from the Global Times. Read more about the Google dispute via CDT.

March 12, 2010 11:09 AM
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