Google’s Future in China Uncertain

Two stories today bring into question Google’s future in China, which has been under scrutiny since the company moved its search engine off servers inside China. PC Magazine reports that Sina, China’s largest web portal, has removed Google search from its site, which may be a result of the company’s refusal to offer censored search results to syndicated partners:

Google would not comment directly on the Sina news, but spokeswoman Christine Chen said “We have had a number of syndication deals with partners in China, and have honored our contractual obligations to them. While we can’t comment on specific partnerships, we announced last year that over time we would not be syndicating censored search to partners in China after fulfilling our contractual commitments.”

Similarly, a Sina spokeswman told AFP, “Our contract (with Google) ended this month and the whole websites are now using our own search technology.”

Sina’s move follows in the footsteps of Tom Online, a Hong Kong-run Internet content provider that severed ties to Google in March 2010. Last week Google accused the Chinese government of disrupting access to Gmail in order to prevent anti-government protests, which the Foreign Ministry vehemently denied.

In a country with the world’s largest Internet population – 389 million according to the CIA’s last count – Google, the leading search engine in the U.S., has watched its Chinese market share fall below 20 percent in December.

Also, the future of Google’s online mapping service in China is at risk as the company has reportedly not filed an application to renew their permit to operate. From Business Week:

As of yesterday, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping hadn’t received an application from Google to keep offering its service, as required under regulations announced in May, according to Kou Jingwei, the bureau’s spokesman. Jessica Powell, a Google spokeswoman, declined to comment on whether the company has applied. The deadline is tomorrow.

As Baidu Inc. widens its lead in the world’s largest Web market, a discontinuation of the mapping service would signal Google’s dimming outlook in China, according to analysts, after the company blamed local censors for disruptions in its e-mail service. The latest clash shows the government hasn’t forgiven the Google’s decision to halt compliance with censorship rules on Internet searches, said Christopher Tang, a professor of business administration at UCLA.

“Google faces major problems within China,” Tang said. “Unless Google is going to change the way they operate, unless they are willing to apologize to the Chinese government, unless they are willing to cooperate with the Chinese government to impose censorship according to the wishes of the Chinese government. Otherwise, there’s no deal.”

Read more about Google in China via CDT.