China has responded firmly but with balance to Google’s decision not to accept any more censorship on its search engines and its threat to review and, if left with no other alternative, to close down its operations in China if the censorship and the alleged State-sponsored web snooping continue.
2. The Chinese response has been to reiterate the right of the State to impose reasonable restrictions in the interest of security and stability while avoiding any statement or action that might result in a break with Google, which could be bad for the international image of the country. At the same time, the Chinese have ruled out any major change in their Internet security policy just because of the threat held out by Google.
3. Jiang Yu, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that China’s policy would continue to be one of encouragement of an open Internet under proper regulations. She said: “The Internet is open in China, where the Government always encourages its development and has created a favorable environment for its healthy development. China, like other countries, will regulate the Internet industry in line with the law. China welcomes international Internet companies to conduct business within the country according to law.”
4.In a statement on its official blog site, David Drummond , Google’s corporate development and chief legal officer, had said that the company intended to “review the feasibility of our business operations in China.” According to him, its disputes with the Government and unidentified attacks targeting Google’s services in China forced the company to make the review and possibly to “shut down Google.cn” and potentially its China offices.
5. While reiterating the right of the State to impose reasonable restrictions, the Chinese authorities have strongly denied that Governmental agencies had any hand in cyber attacks on Google. The spokesperson of the Foreign Office pointed out that Chinese laws “prohibit hacker attacks in any form.”
6.Wang Chen, Director of China’s State Council Information Office, said on January 14,2010, in an interview to the “People’s Daily”: “China firmly opposes cyber attacks because China itself is a victim of such attacks. Every country needs to effectively regulate the Internet and to make sure their own problems on the web do not affect other countries. Internet security has become a significant problem that does not only involve China but also other countries.”
7. Comments made by Chinese non-governmental analysts and Internet users make two points. Firstly, the decision of the Google’s executives to review the continuance of its operations in China appear to have been triggered off by its failure to make a commercial breakthrough in China after nearly four years of its operations in China and by its inability to face the competition of Chinese search engines, which continue to enjoy a monopoly of the Chinese market. Instead of admitting its commercial inadequacies, it has been trying to blame the alleged web censorship and snooping for its decision to review its future operations. They accuse Google of looking for moral scapegoats to cover up its commercial failure. In this connection, they point out that the so-called censorship regulations were there even in 2006 when Google entered the Chinese market. It did not find anything morally wrong with them at that time, but it has now, after its failure to break through in the local market, started talking of morality issues.
8. Secondly, they allege that Google has been guilty of double standards. They point out that there are regulations in the US prohibiting access to children to pornographic sites. Similarly, after 9/11, to prevent terrorists from having access to pictures and other information which could be useful for planning a terrorist strike, the US Government has been asking Google to remove certain photographs and other materials from the web. The Google found nothing wrong in such requests or instructions emanating from the US security agencies and carried out their wishes, but when Chinese agencies issue such instructions they are accused of misuse of authority and coming in the way of the free use of the Internet.
9. The Chinese are hoping that ultimately Google will realise that it had over-reacted to the difficulties faced by it in China and will decide to continue its operations in China in its long-term business interests. However, if Google sticks to its threat and decides to wind up its operations after the proposed review, the Chinese are prepared to face it. They are confident that any decision of Google to wind up will not have any impact on China’s relations with the US and on the confidence of international companies in the business environment in China.
( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )