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Google vs. China
A Chinese flag flutters beside Google's headquarters in Beijing on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010. (AP)

A Chinese flag flutters beside Google's headquarters in Beijing on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010. (AP)

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Google is huge. China is huge. And now they’re nose-to-nose in a very public standoff.

Google says China has hacked into its systems and the accounts of human-rights activists, and it’s not going to take it anymore. It’s going to stop censoring its search results for China, it says, and maybe pull out of the country.

China says its Internet is open — and that in any case Google, and anybody else who wants to do business in China, have to follow Chinese law.

It’s a business standoff. A standoff over principle. A standoff of giants.

This hour, On Point: Google versus China.

Guests:

James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. He was based in China from 2006 to 2009. His writings from China are collected in the book “Postcards from Tomorrow Square.”

Kara Swisher, technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal and co-executive editor of All Things Digital, a website owned by Dow Jones covering technology, the Internet and media.

David Barboza, correspondent for The New York Times.  He’s been based in Shanghai since November 2004. He writes about business and culture in China.

Yong Xue, professor of Asian History at Suffolk University.  He maintains a blog in China that has received over 22 million hits, and his columns appear in the Shanghai Morning Post (Xinwen Chen Bao) and China Newsweek (Zhongguo Xinwen Zhoukan).

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  • http://spypencamera1.blogspot.com spy camera

    I hope Google doesn’t eventually cave in to the Chinese government.

  • cory

    I would advise against this course, Google. It won’t be long before the Chinese are signing your paychecks.

    On a more serious note… China has all the cards in it’s hand. Cheap labor combined with an authoritarian government means they really don’t have to give a damn about laws or those who disagree with them. Get used to it, Americans.

  • http://www.pnart.com peter nelson

    According to Tech Republic the Chinese spies simply exploited software Google had put in place for the purpose of cooperating with the “authorities” in handing over dissident communication.

    http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/security/?p=3007&tag=nl.e101

    So despite their happy-face image and their cries of victimhood in this case, Google has the same morals as any other big corporation, i.e., none.

  • http://www.pnart.com peter nelson

    I hope Google doesn’t eventually cave in to the Chinese government.

    What do you mean “eventually”? They’ve caved in to the Chinese government for years. Why do you think that exploit existed in the first place? Good grief!

  • Dee

    Although it is politically incorrect to say so, we are talking about Communist China here, who manufactures everything from our baby bottles to critical defense components. Their primary interest is their well-being, not ours. As for Google, the Chinese will soon have their own in-house search engine that meets their own political ends, so there goes the biggest single chunk of their business volume.

  • T Nguyen

    I think Google should play it smart with the Chinese goverement and obey their rules, regulations, and laws. It’s the same if another company from outside of the U.S. came into the U.S. they would need to obey the laws that we go by if that company wants to succeed here.

  • Neil Cleary

    It’s refreshing in an era of cynical self-interested mega-corporations to see one taking a principled stand. Regardless of the outcome, hopefully they can inspire other companies to use their power in the service of the public good. Go Google!

  • siobhan

    We’ve been pretending for a long time that as China has become a place of capitalistic business growth, it has also been growing more democratic and open. Similarly, the Olympics were supposed to open China up more and make it more open.

    This whole Google situation shines a light on the fact that China is still a repressive regime. American companies should pull out of china: we should not be helping them to grow more quickly into a power with which we will not be able to contend; and we should not be helping China to falsely portray itself as legitimate, capitalistic, and open.

  • Juchechosunmanse

    Who is James Fallows kidding? Google is threatening to exit China simply because some e-mail accounts were allegedly hacked? And it has little to do with the fact the Google is not doing so well in the Chinese market? The fact that the censorship is hampering on Google’s business potential in China is not factor at all? Who is James Fallows kidding?

    And China entering the Bush/Cheney era? Actually China has not changed much, it is the increasing inability of the US/west to issue orders to China and immediately expect compliance that is frustrating the US and the west. Who is James Fallows kidding by asserting that the Obama administration is different from Bush/Cheney or any other US presidency for that matter? Foreign policy-wise, what Obama and co. care about the most is still maintaining the global US primacy, like most of his predecessors.

  • http://www.pnart.com peter nelson

    It’s refreshing in an era of cynical self-interested mega-corporations to see one taking a principled stand.

    I can’t believe posters like this and callers who say “you go, Google” can possibly be so naive about Google!

    Google has been censoring its searches for dissident topics in China for years. At the request of the Chinese government their in-China services have been routinely censoring references to Tibetan independence, Chinese dissidents, etc.

    Tom doesn’t seem to understand that when he puts in English search terms from his US IP address he doesn’t see the same things that someone searching from a Chinese IP address will.

    James Fallows (who once called me “Nelson the Bad” in the pages on the Atlantic Monthly) is absolutely correct that any Chinese who want to circumvent “The Great Firewall” have the means to do so.

    So let’s not cry crocodile tears about Google — whatever they decide will be strictly a business decision, and it won’t really change very much on the ground.

  • Juchechosunmanse

    “we should not be helping them to grow more quickly into a power with which we will not be able to contend; and we should not be helping China to falsely portray itself as legitimate, capitalistic, and open.”

    Actually the unofficial official US China policy has been to contain, counter and stymie China by all means. The US is not helping China to grow, it is simply taking its end of the deal (with China taking hers) that is mutually beneficial. If anyone is aware of a petition to kick the Chinese ambassador out of the US please let me know, I will sure sign it.

    Is China legitimate, capitalistic and open? China is certainly legitimate (the legitimacy of a regime is not determined by foreign public opinions just like the continental government was certainly legitimate even though the British called it bunch of bandits) and very capitalistic (in a bad way) and not open enough.

  • blueskypy

    Type “Chinese people” in Goolge. While you type, Goolge gives some extremely offensive and racial suggestions.

    For screen shot, see http://www.vimeo.com/8798697

    Based on Google’s policy at http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=106230, Google “try to filter out suggestions that include pornographic terms, dirty words, and hate and violence terms.” However Google still refuses to filter out those racial suggestions despite the requests by Chinese users.

  • Dan

    Why no discussion on the possibility that hackers were after google’s search algorithms (i.e. trade secrets)?

    It’s more believable that this would motivate this type of response from Google than a few hacked email accounts would.

  • Huyu

    Well. We need to sustain stability and a single goal for the next 20 years in this country; that is the focus on economic development and deliverance of our people out of poverty. For that objective, I am willing to send a few hot-heads to jail, including the highly respected Mr. Liu Xiaobo, whom I do not believe is a hot-head but there are many around him who are 1000x, and to kick Google out, if it does not want to play by these, hopefully temporary rules. In your country, you did not give the vote to the slaves, the women, and the property less classes for almost 100-200 years. As a student of history, I have known many “ism”, including your cherished “liberalism”, that derailed us and had interfered with our even a small degree of stability to pursue a sustained period of development since 1840. I wish I had lived then and had been in a position of power to throw those hot-heads into purgatory then, including the, again, respected Dr. Sun Yat-san, Mr. Mao Ze-Dong, and the General Chiang. We have not had a leader, or a generation of leadership, who could have seen the potential of our nation in the last 150. Except our minute Giant Mr Deng Xiao-Ping, just like it was in 250BC Emperor Wudi, 610AD Emperor Taizhong, and 1640AD Emperor Kangxi could have seen, given 50 years of stability the greatest continuous civilization on this planet will be back to its inventive, prosperous, and righteous self. Admired universally, and emulated from the East to the West. We are the only nation in this world, throughout history, who had been invaded, but the invaders had to adopt our norms, our values, and our system. Today, we are a nation of many all melted from many original Han dynasty descendants and many barbarians. We certainly know we are not perfect, nor are you. Just to give you a clue, we had not invaded anyone, and no foreign blood is on our hands. We should all be self-reflective ourselves, you and I. In the long term, we also know that “Water can float the boat, but can also subside a boat” – Confusius 500BC – where the boat is the elites and the water is the people. From the pronouncements of our current “boat” they have studied these very carefully. We, the water, have our interests perfectly aligned with them – for now.

  • http://www.pnart.com peter nelson

    In your country, you did not give the vote to the slaves, the women, and the property less classes for almost 100-200 years.

    This is a common, and specious, argument often put forth by oppressive regimes to try to excuse their repressive policies. China says it took us centuries to give the vote to blacks and women, so they can’t be expected to adopt democracy quickly. Likewise Islamic countries say the same thing when their oppression of women is pointed out.

    But using that argument China should not have cell phones or nuclear weapons or modern capitalism or house mortgages or environmental regulations or a modern banking system or lots of other things for at least another century or so. And the Saudi’s should still be living in tents and traveling on camels. No cell phones for them!

    Mr Huyu does not seem to have much respect for the Chinese people and their ability to develop modern ways. But I think if they are intelligent enough to design modern technology, trade and travel all over the world, and use a cell phone, they can handle the requirements of free speech and democracy! We have many people of Chinese ancestry in the US who seem to do it just fine. But obviously I have a higher opinion of the Chinese people than Mr Huyu does!

  • robert

    google is just one of thousands foreign companies operating in china. saying google vs china is just a plain joke. google is just a search engine…period…unless the white house delegates some authority to them…

  • peter nelson

    Another comment to Mr Huyu and anyone else who doesn’t think that the Chinese peasants can be trusted with the challenges of liberal democracy – -

    In the 1930′s and 1940′s Germany was ruled by a bloodthirsty dictator leading one of the most systematically oppressive regimes the world had seen up to that point.

    And yet, by the 1950′s and 60′s Germany had managed to create a modern, stable, liberal democracy in some ways better than the American model. Germany’s only prior experience with modern liberal democracy, the Weimar Republic, was a complete fiasco, not unlike China’s own attempts to create a functioning republic in the early 20th century.

    So the idea that the Chinese need to slowly build up to a liberal democracy over many generations is ridiculous. It is nothing more than an excuse for the current leadership to hold onto their power and privilege and oppress the ordinary Chinese people as long as they can get away with it.

  • http://www.pnart.com peter nelson

    robert says, google is just a search engine…period

    This is one of the most remarkably uninformed statements I have ever seen in this forum.

  • http://bruceguindon.com bruce guindon

    why did Google suddenly develop scruples

  • Huyu

    It is very encouraging to see other people’s interests in our well being. Thank you.

    However, my post is not to start a discussion on the subject; it is simply to make a statement of an alternative view that you may or may not consider. The reality is, referring to the views I shared with you above, I have 150 years of history behind me, that is until Mr. Deng had the good sense to scrap the arguments, and simply say I “do not care what cat you are, you are welcome unless and as long as you can catch the mice”. You are going to tell me that is just a big lie; you are welcome to that as it is a valid view. I judge not how splendid theory of how it is supposed to happen, but what is happening. Thank you again; it is very late in Beijing.

  • Leo

    most of the descussion I have read on this incident did not mention the fact Google has put its Google China staff on paid leave and suspended their access:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jan/18/china-google-cyber-attack

    Everything points into google treating it as an internal security leak , and is conducting an internal audit on all its China employee. This seem far more plausible as the true cause for google’s fury. Very likely some google China employee was found to be working with Chinese government , or even to be agent sent in to investigate Google right from the beginning.
    This would be a moment as shocking for Google management as the “Cambridge Five” for British government .
    Firstly it would mean Google can no longer count on its Chinese employee’s loyalty when it clashes with their loyalty to China, so if it wants to operate in China it has to continue with a tainted staff, and Google management cannot stand it as in its corporate culture loyalty to Google is of great value.
    Secondly it would mean there are serious security loopholes in Google internal management as it failed to implement a safety mechanism to check or limit inside attack.It this is true, pile on the fact that Google is already facing increasing privacy scrutiny in the US and Europe,it would be a heavy blow to Google’s reputation as a whole as it sends out the message that Google cannot be trusted with your data.

    So Google failed to take care of its own fences.Frankly it cannot blame its own negligence on the Chinese government as on-call agent has been a staple practice for all government in investigating foreign companies. But in its self business interest it has to shift the blame , and Chinese government make for a convenient target.As mentioned in some reports Google might be contemplating exit already in light of its defeat in the Chinese market.This incident may have provided a good excuse.

    While every body can shift blames, Google’s genius lies in politicizing this incident which constitute a truly master stroke as it completely shadows the question of Google’s own internal security vulnerability, as evidenced by the blanket omitting of this question in most of the news reports I have seen.

  • Chas

    Oh please, Google is not leaving China. While western media is stuck on the human rights POV and static view of China, subsquent reports have made it clear Google’s mobile phone and Gmail business units are staying put.

    The exodus of Google CN employees start 3 years ago, when their top execs left to start their own companies. The most recent being Lee Kaifu, and many people already jumped ship to Lee’s new venture back in November.

  • pug_ster

    This is about US extending its influence to China, not about censorship. Most Americans are more outraged about censorship in the internet than the hacking incident itself. The problem with google’s page rankings technology is that it can be exploited using google bombs. Go to google and type in ‘chinese people’ and you will see some interesting search suggestions. This is the kind of thing that China want to ‘censor.’ Another thing that China and google fought over was porn in the internet and China cracking down internet porn within China and remove the ability to search for porn. Some people call it free speech to search whatever they want, while other people want some offensive material removed.

  • joshua

    “Google still refuses to filter out those racial suggestions despite the requests by Chinese users.”

    Chinese blogs are full of seething racial and nationalistic remarks and the Chinese governemtn or so-called private Baidu does nothing to censor those–

    Its ridiculous to think Google is pulling out because it cant corner the chineses market–I know loads of Chinese using Google and are incensed–angry at the Chinese gov. for behaving like tyrannical misfit children–Chinese people are sick of being censored and controlled by big brother. Only nationalist–ignorant unthinking drones in China say Chinese people do not deserve freedom. Google could do better if not for Chinese gov interference and propping up of Baidu. Google will loose a lot of money leaving China–it does nothing good financially to leave–so all that Chinese nationalist nonsens is just more of the same poor me victimization. I for one respect Google a lot more now than I ever did. And hope they dont back down. Show th eworld the right the thing to do–the ethical thing to do–get out of CHina. We can not keep giving in to fascism on either side of the pond!

  • j

    “The exodus of Google CN employees start 3 years ago, when their top execs left to start their own companies. The most recent being Lee Kaifu, and many people already jumped ship to Lee’s new venture back in November.”

    One more reason why Google should leave China–every company shoiul leave China–save the world leave China–the earth is dying and fascism is sponsored int heis way–so leave China. These Chinese at Google, Cn are there for one reason to steal and absorb techology and creativity and then go to work in Chinses market. They do this with every company in China–with every product all over the world. its leaching. All Western countries should pull out! 1. the earth cant handle it. 2. Chinese nationalists have no respect or honor when it comes to the ‘foreign devil’

  • joshua

    Leo: “Chinese government make for a convenient target.As mentioned in some reports Google might be contemplating exit already in light of its defeat in the Chinese market.This incident may have provided a good excuse.”

    You rightly mentined that Western companies, and Google cant trust Chinese employees–as they are spies nd security threats, but then you conclude by saying Google cant blame the governemnt, and you acal lit market–”defeat”–this nationalist rhetoric–nobody but CHina has been defeated–lost of face–for its meddling deciet as usual. China fears Google–that why they assaulted them, and HCina fears fee speach, and human rights–because its hard to contol a thinking independant-minded poulation. The Chinese have a very authoritarin nature–”culturaly” i personal relationships as well s political. westerners are not easily cowed. Most Westerners are not sychophants.

  • peter nelson

    Some people call it free speech to search whatever they want, while other people want some offensive material removed.

    It IS about free speech! Anyone who doesn’t want to see certain content can use an alternative search engine, or they can avail themselves of Google’s Safe Search features.

    As I mentioned to an earlier poster, this is about the power elite in China controlling what their people are allowed to see, share, and discuss. That IS censorship, and it’s based on the idea that the Chinese people are too volatile, emotional and childlike to handle the responsibilities of a modern free country without a peasant’s revolt. If a westerner were to suggest that it would be (correctly) viewed as racist – but if the Chinese leadership takes the same position they get a pass.

  • http://www.theinternettimemachine.com Curt

    Google and China are bringing up a 21st century battle of democracy and freedom verse Communism and restricted personal freedom. When we started using cloud computing systems we saw the HUGE area of security problems being created in cross country internet usage. Thrown in that the entire world is “outsourcing” computer stuff to Southeast Asian countries, and you have a plan for these socio-technology issues going to ahead. We study search demand/supply trends from around the world to find profitable niches and products. A niche, or hot predictions, is not just a demand side issue, but a supply/demand curve. If you predict IPHONE apps will take off, and there are already 100,000 aps, then you aren’t going to hit that one. If you see that demand for cell phone radiation shields is going nuts and there are only two suppliers, then you can be pretty sure that it will be a good year for those 2 supplies. The software at http://www.TheInternetTimeMachine.com studies both the demand (search volume) and supply (think “results” in Google). The Google Phone is generating much more buzz right now then say the Apple Tablet.
    Cheers,
    Curt
    Here is a video on what I mean.. http://bit.ly/SupplyDemandCurves

  • Peter

    The Tiananmen square incident was mentioned, along with the associated imagery that most Americans recall from the events (the image of a man in front of a tank in the square). What was not mentioned is that this image can have multiple interpretations. The common American narrative was shaped by the American media’s portrayal of events, whereas the Chinese interpretation was shaped largely by Chinese media (one could just as easily read the image as one of restraint and compassion by the Chinese military).

    Also, no proof was given that the Chinese government itself is in fact more egregious in its violations of privacy than are other governments. Have we already forgotten the NSA’s overreaching wiretapping, and the slippery slope legislation dubbed ‘the patriot act’?

  • Ishmael

    The world in general has been far too forgiving and patient vis-a-vis China’s bludgeoning of its own (and others’) people (Tiannanmen; meaningless courtroom trials; Tibet; displacing the poor for its tainted Olympics) ad nauseum — with a logical history that includes the days of Mao Zedong, with a great deal of continuity.

    Just because they are consumers of cell phones and other skin-deep signs of modernity doesn’t mean China is becoming civilized in a conventional, meaningful sense. Ask the good citizens of Tibet.

  • ageofaquarius

    Peter Nelson & others who don’t believe Huyu’s words,

    As a Chinese American, I feel so offended by your comments and comparison with Germany. Why? Because Germany’s culture is different from Chinese culture, and China was pretty much a victim not a invader in WWII. I am from Taiwan, born in a democratic open society, but I can relate to everything Huyu talked about, why? Because I am a Chinese, and I know Chinese history better than any of you. Huyu is so sincere in his words, but you are deaf to his words because you are also systematically brain washed by your western values which you think there’s only one way to govern.

    Your memory only goes back so far, you can’t see a whole picture of Chinese culture and value. The only thing you know about China is from the day China turned into communist up till today.

    Since I am a Chinese, so I know Chinese people from everywhere you name it, I also still have relatives living in China. Open your ears and listen to the feeling of day to day Chinese people, not only the people portrayed in your news media or PBS. Listen to us, we are for real, we are not the spokesmen of some Chinese propaganda.

    What if you as an American sincerely speaking of your view point of your culture and government, and you are content with your day to day life, but we discredit every fact and true feeling you tell us, we simply just throw these words at you “don’t believe him/her, he/she is a typical capitalist and imperialist from the country of U.S.” How would that make you feel, I wonder.

    There’s a deep rooted Chinese culture you simply won’t understand unless someday you let go of your prejudice — most Chinese are content with bull belly and decent comfort for thousands of years. Of course, now the “extreme” capitalism is introduced into Chinese society, just like any other human, the more you have, the more you want (not need), thanks for your western value of “more is better”, “consume! consume! consume!”, “Shop till you drop”.

    China was highly criticized by Britain and forced to open ports in the 18 hundreds. The British pretty much used force to open China. When China was content with themselves, self provided country, China was criticized by western barbaric behaved countries. Now China open her door, still facing criticism from western countries.

    You don’t really know how prejudiced you are when you criticize a long lived civilization in the name of democracy. Yeah, in U.S., we got democracy, but look at how corrupted our government is. Yeah, we can vote all day long, our politicians are not making decision basing on our interest, at the end of day, I prefer a government looking after my livelihood instead of campaign rhetoric of honey & milk.

  • ageofaquarius

    And why is this modern years of practicing democracy creates such a “short term memory loss syndrome”, and all of a sudden erase all bad deeds of other invasive countries just at the turn of 20th century.

    Democracy is the best pill to erase memories of bad deeds.

    You simply treat democracy as some kind of religion, which can do no wrong. An advise — Don’t impose democracy on people, same goes religion.

  • ageofaquarius

    FYI, Dalai Lama is a political tool used by the western countries. China was a big pie, everyone in the world wanted some share of that big pie, so does now, more of it, it’s a potential and imaginary threat of U.S.. China was to partially blame herself at the turn of 20th century for their own civil wars that created social instability giving opportunities of invasion by foreign countries. But boy, China has learned a very very harsh lessons since that time.

    Do you really think that the U.S. troops in Afghanistan are only for one cause? Afghanistan is a perfect geo-political spot surrounded by Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, & China, you name it. All these countries are under U.S. watch.

  • ageofaquarius

    *****As I mentioned to an earlier poster, this is about the power elite in China controlling what their people are allowed to see, share, and discuss. That IS censorship, and it’s based on the idea that the Chinese people are too volatile, emotional and childlike to handle the responsibilities of a modern free country without a peasant’s revolt. If a westerner were to suggest that it would be (correctly) viewed as racist – but if the Chinese leadership takes the same position they get a pass.*****

    China is blocking your “systematic brain washed” government propaganda. First wave of invasion in China from westerners was religious missionary, 2nd wave is another of your newly designed religion — democracy.

    The same very thing you criticize “Communism” was a peasant’s revolt. You can sit here pouring words out of your big old mouth bearing no responsibility and burdens if massive revolt and instability taking place in China’s society right now , then you are just a cheap worthless instigator who enjoys watching all the despair and tragedy unfold in front of your TV BOX, and shout — long live democracy!

    Americans like you are the most nosey citizens in the world, and when political turmoil happens in another country, you are probably the first in line holding your passport in American embassy, and say “Hummm….I like what’s going on right now in this country, but let me go back to America to watch revolution unfold on my TV”. Sad……

    If democracy speaks and listens for what majority of people want in a country, China is probably doing better then U.S.

    Next time when you want to talk about political prisoners or some sort, check out “Black Panthers” who are still being locked up right now.

  • ageofaquarius

    Western civilizations in the 1500′s to 1800′s dominated the world by force & religion, 20th up till now, Western civilizations dominate the world in the name of “Freedom” & “Democracy”.

    That’s what they always say “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, “Don’t judge a product by its packaging”.

  • MrFightGreed

    Google has become so arrogant, uncaring and too big for its britches in terms of interaction with users around the world who have made it what it is. Google better realize that it is NOT invincible and stop pushing its weight around in countries that are more than a match for it. I am glad China will teach it a lesson. Google has bitten off more than it can ever chew! No company on this planet is that omnipotent. I applaud China with glee for telling Google to take a hike!

  • ageofaquarius

    Google is so tightly interacted with U.S. government now, one can’t help to speculate their decision making is not only basing on business practice anymore, but also on political influence.

    ps. I hate “Google Earth”, total invasion of privacy and creepy.

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