Edward Tian: Google Is China’s Best Tool for Understanding the West

Tian Suning (Edward Tian) is chairman of Media China Corporation Limited. A leader in the IT field who helped bring the Internet to China, Tian co-founded AsiaInfo in Dallas, Texas in 1993 and has served as the company’s President and on the Board of Directors. He is also the founder and Chairman of China Broadband Capital Partners, L.P. and has served on the board of MasterCard International among other organizations.

Following is a talk he gave at a summit for leaders in the IT industry, held in Shenzhen in March. For more on the summit, read this CDT post.

Translated by Luke Habberstad:

Tian Suning: Wu Ning gave me a most difficult to answer question. I was just speaking of the liberation of thought, so here I need to speak truthfully. At the same time, I must consider China’s actual characteristics, and see if the political arts that I have learned over the last few years can respond to your question.

First, I will make clear that this is my own perspective. I do not represent any other, and I do not now have any representative capacity. The Google affair, from my perspective, truly represents two different cultures, two different value systems, and the resolution methods and conflicts of two different approaches to problems.

In this conflict, it is still too early for us today to evaluate who is good and who is bad, who is right and who is wrong, since many things need time for examination. I will give an example. Many newspapers have noted that the planning and premeditation of the Google incident was formed under the sway of Western anti-China forces. I have met the two leaders of Google, and had frequent contact with companies such as theirs of this size and scope. I do not believe that one company can cooperate in an organized and premeditated manner with the government to do this sort of thing. It is possible that this incident would be taken advantage of by governments, particularly Western governments. However, as to if the incident was planned in a small dark room, discussing implementation with the US military, I think that that it was not necessarily thought through in such a complicated manner. Therefore, I say that when you have the difference of two different value systems and two different judgments of an incident, from your very approach you will naturally have two different resolutions. You ask: who is the winner? Is Li Yanhong (co-founder of Baidu) the winner? This is hard to say. After Google left, many angry youth in our country said this was good. However, Google is also China’s best tool for understanding the West. In order to make the West understand the achievements of China’s reform and opening, many have to search through Google. Baidu maybe needs 10 or 20 more years before it can be acceptable to the Internet users of the West. It is possible that our reform and opening has lost a great tool for external publicity. We have to consider a question from two sides.

The second problem. Google is not just for searching. Google represents the future of information technology, since the Google search engine and Google cloud computing [support IT technology] behind the scenes. When we make this sort of company such a big rival, are we not also rejecting these technologies? Let us consider the accomplishments we have now achieved with a modernized core attitude. They came precisely from having an open mind. We brought over the Western invention of mobile communication and the Western invention of photo-communication, and took the title of being the nation with the largest telecommunications company in the world (China Mobile), thus achieving a leap in development. In the future, software technology might emerge in a form that uses Google services. Can we simply follow one sentence from Comrade Lenin and then throw the baby out with the bath water? We need to consider these questions.

On the one hand, the Internet is a beneficial, extremely advanced tool. However, on the other hand, it represents the reform of our ideas. So, as to the question of why, when dealing with new issues we require new thinking, new methods, and a new ideology in order to solve the problems of the Internet age, I think that the Google incident does not provide a resolution. I think that it is the beginning of many similar sorts of incidents. It is not only one Internet company, and it does not only represent technology. Behind it all are values and consciousness, and these values and consciousness have a close relationship with the core technologies of future economic expansion in China. At this time, no matter if we are policy makers, policy advisors, industry insiders, or even one of the many users of the Internet, we have to consider these questions. If they are not resolved, conflicts will become increasingly complicated. We won’t have harmony or mutual benefit, but defeat and injury.

In the past we studied Deng Xiaoping’s works and Chairman Mao’s works, in order to see how we could unify their opposing points and via a dialectical method get to their core, inner elements. This issue of how we can solve the problems posed by opposing viewpoints requires a higher wisdom, but the history of our Party, and the history of our reform and opening, actually gives us this kind of wisdom. It offers us an inexhaustible source of thought and method of problem-solving.