Well, the inevitable finally happened: Google has left (partially at least) China, according to various news reports like this one in the New York Times. The company announced yesterday that it was moving its Internet search engine service from China to Hong Kong where it is still uncensored.
Quoting from Google’s blog,
".. earlier today we stopped censoring our search services - Google Search, Google News, and Google Images - on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. ... "
"Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced - it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China."
Google also said, as expected, that it would try to continue other aspects of its business in China including its R&D and local sales presence.
The Chinese government, as expected, wasn't publicly happy, although, as I mentioned previously, it is probably pleased. Calling the move "totally wrong", the Times quotes the State Council Information Office as saying, "Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks."
China also said US - Chinese relations would not be harmed unless "unless someone politicizes the issue": a not too subtle hint to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In January, Secretary Clinton, as you might recall, gave a speech at the Newseum on Internet freedom and pointedly cited China as one of the countries posing a threat to the free flow of information over the Internet.
This afternoon, China seemed ready to turn up the heat on Google. A New York Times article says that,
"China’s biggest cellular communications company, China Mobile, was expected to cancel a deal that had placed Google’s search engine on its mobile Internet home page, used by millions of people daily."
Other Chinese mobile companies are expected to cancel their contracts with Google as well, says the Times, and no doubt, Google's other types of business partners will start feeling intense pressure to do the same.
In addition, the Chinese government has kept up its firewalls so uncensored results from Google Hong Kong can't be seen anyway by those in Mainland China.
Furthermore, Google’s license to publish material on the Internet in China (a requirement there, the Times says) expires in a few weeks. Declining to renew it could make doing business in China very difficult for Google’s remaining businesses, assuming there are left any by then.
Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, told the Times in an interview that, "The story’s not over yet."
But I think were are getting to the final chapters, though.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.