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Google’s Dilemma: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Posted by on 2010/01/25. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

By Liang Jing

Jan 25, 2010 – 8:30:25 AM

Google’s Dilemma: Should I Stay or Should I Go? *

On 17 January, when many people thought that Google was irretrievably on its way out of China, reports appeared on the Internet of a possible turnaround. [1] Appearing simultaneously with it were an interview on “Voice of America” with the US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman: “We should focus on the overall situation in Sino-US relations” [2], and “Internet users’ sentiment reversed—70% of Chinese believe that Google was politically manipulated.” [3]

As stated on the BBC’s Chinese language network, the Google issue has made Sino-US bilateral issues more difficult, “The issue of freedom of speech in Internet space opens up a whole new area for Sino-American human rights issues contestation. Digital diplomacy has become a buzzword.”

But the problem lies in the fact that if Google leaves China, it may bring about an overall escalation of tension in bilateral relations that would be too sudden for the political leaders on either side, and that neither is keen to see. The official media have successfully led most Chinese Internet users to believe that Google’s attack on the authorities is an anti-Chinese conspiracy by Google in collusion with the American government. But those who are a little more sober minded know this not to be the case. The fact is, Google recently found that the Chinese authorities had broken into its security system, gaining the capacity to spy on the e-mails of Chinese political dissidents. With this Google’s main founders could not longer bearable the situation, and decided to withdraw from China.

So what are the consequences of Google’s departure? Some say Google, oin losing China, the largest market, has most likely committed an major, irreversible mistake. Others say that China will return to the LAN era due to Google’s departure, and its knowledge and technology will become seriously outdated. The fact is that no one can foresee the consequences of Google’s departure, and this is the issue of real concern to the political leaders of the two sides. Google’s loss was not unbearable in purely commercial terms, because the Chinese market income accounted for only a small share of its total income. As for the overall situation of Sino-US economic and trade, Google’s weight is still more negligible. In terms of the political climate however, Google’s departure will not only affect China’s relations with the US and other Western countries, it will even more importantly profoundly inlfuence China’s internal political situation.

Web search is not only an indispensable part of everyday life for China’s intellectuals and professionals: it is more and more an major channel of information for ordinary citizens. Everyone knows that even if Google does leave of China it will not stop Chinese information services. This means that a vast network of information resources exists beyond the bounds of the Chinese Government’s firewall. Anyone who masters the techniques of “scaling the wall” have can access this information resource. As a result, there will be an unprecedented number of people who for a variety of motives wish to acquire the techniques of “scaling the wall.” For the government, blockading the Chinese people’s network information faces unprecedented challenges.

As the game for and against Chinese people “scaling the wall” escalates, the American government will face a political choice over whether to devote more resources to support the Chinese people against the government blockade on network information. If the US devotes more resources to supporting Chinese netizens “scaling the wall”, it would mean the game between the Chinese and American governments over blockading and counter-blockading network information becoming a competition to speed up technological upgrading, and once the race started it would be a serious escalation of tension in Sino-US relations, and the Sino-American game may itself directly threaten the normal order of the world’s information network, and thus to the normal order of the world economy.

If Google withdraws from China and the US Government fails to help Chinese Internet users “scale the wall,” it will face considerable moral and political pressure at home and abroad, but given its current national interests, it is of necessity unwilling to fall out with China. On the Chinese side, carrying on a long-running resource-intensive “arms race” with the US in order to block network information could have disastrous consequences. For this reason, the two governments find that allowing Google to stay in China is more beneficial to both. I believe that the Ambassador Huntsman must negotiate urgently with the Chinese side on this.

There is still some room for compromise: Google could continue promising to screen off information as demanded by China, in exchange for security of the e-mail system. Of course, the Chinese government will never admit any of the previous attacks were made by them, but this would not prevent them committing to improve network security.

Everyone can see, behind Google’s dilemma of going or staying is an irreconcilable conflict between China’s authoritarian regime and the liberal values of modern civilisation; authoritarian rule and freedom of information cannot coexist. Hence, even if Google succeeds in remaining in China, this conflict will still exist and a final showdown will be inevitable. I am sure that, like me, many people want Google to stay in China, because the latter’s social forces are still very fragile, and the time for apportioning the two sets of values is far from ripe.

Chinese source at:
Liang Jing, “Guge de quliu nanti” [Google’s dilemma about staying or going], Xin shiji, 24 January 2010 [梁京: “谷歌的去留难题”, 新世纪,2010年1月 24日 (<http://www.ncn.org/view.php?id=77229>).].

[1] “Guge keneng jixu liuzai Zhongguo” [Google may remain in China], Lianhe zaobao, 24 January 2010 [: “谷歌可能继续留在中国 ”, 联合早报,2010年1月 24日 (<http://news.boxun.com/news/gb/intl/2010/01/201001180142.shtml>here).].

[2] Zhang Nan, “Hong Bopei zhanfang: Mei-Zhong guanxi yao zhaoyan daju” [Hongbo Pei Interview: Sino-US relations should focus on the overall situation], , 24 January 2010 [张楠: “洪博培专访: 美中关系要着眼大局”, 美国之音,2010年1月 24日 (<http://news.boxun.com/news/gb/china/2010/01/201001180352.shtml>here).].

[3] “Zhongguo wangmin qingxu nizhuan; qicheng renwei Guge bei zhengzhi saozong” [Chinese Internet users sentiment reversed; 70% think Google was politically manipulated], Boxun, 17 January 2010 [“中国网民情绪逆转 七成认为谷歌被政治操纵”, 博讯,2010年1月 17日 (<http://news.boxun.com/forum/201001/boxun2010/113327.shtml>here).].

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