Google vs. China: Google 1, China 0
By Tony Kontzer
And so the game of dodge-and-parry has begun in full regalia, with Google finally firing the long-expected salvo of ceasing censoring search results in China and instead routing users to its Hong Kong site. Naturally, the Beijing leadership struck back almost immediately, blocking access to some of those searches, too, although reports indicated that there were numerous workarounds for anyone wanting to get at controversial content.
Score this round advantage Google. The move by the world's most dominant search engine sends a clear and admirable message: You will not oppress us as you do your own people. It's exactly what companies around the world were hoping for as they struggle with their own strategies for doing business in China. Beijing's message was meek in comparison: "Oh, yeah? Well, you're not the boss here."
All of this posturing comes more than two months after Google revealed that it had been victimized by Chinese hackers trying to get access to the email accounts of human rights activists, and was considering pulling out of China as a result. In the weeks since, speculation as to what Google would do in response has ranged from shutting down operations in China completely to opting to conform to China's censorship policy in the name of preserving access to a nation of 1.3 billion people.
What Google's actions this week tell us is that the company has come to the irrefutable conclusion that China is too important to just walk away from, but that it's not about to roll over for the Chinese government either. It's an ideally measured approach that will succeed in casting Google as a strong company committed to its ideals while shining a spotlight on China's less-than-advisable tactics in a global market that might just move on to the next emerging economy if the world's largest nation makes it too difficult to conduct business there.
It's also worth noting that Google is acting on its own here. U.S. Government officials no doubt are quietly cheering the latest developments, but they're careful to distance themselves from Google's actions as they attempt to smooth relations with China amid numerous points of tension between the two nations. In this sense, Google is serving as a sort of unsanctioned trial balloon that will go a long way toward determining how other companies tackle the Chinese market.
It's the kind of trailblazing role Google's always been pretty comfortable filling.