By Simon Shen
Google, the world’s biggest and most famous internet-search technology corporation, has decided to cease its four-year operation in China, the world largest internet market. This also marks the end of Google’s confrontation with Beijing over the censorship of search results, as well as the alleged regular cyber attacks which have emanated from China.
On January 12th, 2010, Google first announced in its official blog that it faced cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. For example, a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on its corporate infrastructure originating from China, according to the company, was detected in mid-December. Moreover, according to Google, Beijing’s primary goal was to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The company, therefore, called for a review of its business in China. As a result, on January 23rd, Google announced that it would be stopping the censorship of its search service; users visiting Google.cn will be directed to Google.com.hk (Google, 2010).
The withdrawal of Google from China has caused heated discussion in the online Chinese community. The officials in charge of the Internet Bureau under the State Council Information Office commented that Google had "violated its written promise," is "totally wrong" in stopping the censoring of its Chinese language search results, and in holding China responsible for the alleged hacking. The officials further added that the issue had been politicized from a purely commercial one, while expressing their discontent and indignation to Google for the company’s unreasonable accusations and conduct (People's Daily, 2010). Within the online community, those who criticized Google’s decision shared similar thoughts, but did so with greater clarity and more detail. Extreme opinions even associated the Central Intelligence Agency with Google which they alleged to be responsible for providing information and suggestions for the US’s national security.(1) According to these netizens, Google is gaining fame by “deceiving the public on its relationship with the US government under the slogan of liberty and democracy”. (2) Some have also expressed doubts about whether Google is really facing a problem from hackers, given its advanced technology. (3) In general, the anti-Google camp have focused on the politicization of the issue, giving an even greater exhibition of a conspiracy mentality than that released from official sources.
At the same time, a significant number of discussions within the online Chinese community reflected doubt about these arguments and were explicit in putting blame on the official Chinese response. The “pro-Google” side’s consensus is that Beijing’s reaction in regarding the situation as a purely commercial issue is illogical and should be at most regarded as a self-fulfilling prophecy. (4) Han Han, ranked by TIME as the most influential blogger in China, also criticized the Chinese censorship, saying that he was disappointed by the fact that some outstanding websites like YouTube and Facebook had left China, resulting in China becoming “the largest intranet in the world” (Han, 2010). Taking this line not only triggered vigorous reaction from the younger internet users in China, but also helped popularize the incident given Han’s high popularity in the online Chinese community.
As a result, the Google incident represents another bipolar reaction among the online Chinese community with a line of demarcation drawn between the new leftists, who call for strengthening the central government in order to address social inequality, and the liberals, who call for solving the social and political problems of China by respecting the Western liberal democratic ideals. Given the stalemate in the rivalry between the two camps over the previous decade, it is impossible for any issue in China to receive overwhelming support in the online community. In other words, as long as Beijing can interpret the Google issue along the new leftist ideological line, it is bound to receive a certain amount of backup no matter how justifiable or unjustifiable its behavior is seen as being. This is probably the rule of game for the foreseeable future.
- Message ID 98660866, SNF, assessed on 1st APR, 2010
- Message ID 98550023, SNF, assessed on 1st APR, 2010
- Message ID 98577455, SNF, assessed on 1st APR, 2010
- Message ID 98548159, SNF, assessed on 1st APR, 2010
References Google. (2010). A new approach to China: an update. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from The Google official Blog Han Han. (2010). Interview with Han Han. (Tudou, miantanzhe) People's Daily. (2010). China says Google breaks promise, totally wrong to stop censoring. People's Daily.
Simon Shen is a Visiting Fellow at Brookings Institution, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, and the co-editor of Online Chinese Nationalism and China's Bilateral Relations.