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Google’s China Exit Elicits Mixed Reactions

March 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Google announced Monday that it will move its search portal from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong because of dissatisfaction with censorship and Internet security. Gwen Ifill reports.
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GWEN IFILL: Now: Google’s decision to protest Chinese government censorship.

The news reached China early this morning, Beijing time. Google had moved its search engine for Chinese Web surfers offshore. Internet users who typed in the search engine’s address were redirected to one based in Hong Kong, where the government doesn’t censor Web browsing.

BILL ECHIKSON, Google spokesperson: This is about a question of censorship. And it’s a question of still trying to give the Chinese users the most possible information uncensored.

GWEN IFILL: The world’s most powerful Internet company, which is only the third biggest in China’s massive market, has agreed to voluntary limits on content since 2006. That included blocking searches for anything related to the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, the exiled Dalai Lama, or the banned Falun Gong protest group.

Google’s stance changed in January, after its e-mail service was targeted by hackers.

BILL ECHIKSON: Over the last year, we have seen a real tightening of the screw and — and lots of sites being blocked and so forth. And then we had this cyber-attack in December, which made it no longer possible to — to act under the same rules. And we really could not abide by censorship anymore.

GWEN IFILL: China employs extensive filters to police its 300 million users. The so-called great fire wall automatically blocks social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, plus anything considered political or pornographic. The Chinese government’s reaction to Google’s decision was swift.

QIN GANG, spokesperson, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through translator): We require foreign businesses operating in China to behave professionally and do business legally. At the same time, we will manage the Internet according to Chinese legislation and rules.

GWEN IFILL: Reaction among the Chinese public was mixed. Some people placed flowers on the Google sign at its Beijing headquarters in a sign of mourning, and sympathetic bloggers spoke up for the American company.

LAO HUMIAO, blogger (through translator): The government doesn’t understand progressive production forces and advanced technology. How can they represent modern culture? They block the Internet. They are an obstacle to the advancement of production forces in China.

GWEN IFILL: But others said the government is within its rights.

Isaac Mao is an Internet and social media expert in China.

ISAAC MAO, internet and social media expert: About 90 percent of Internet users in China actually don’t care whether Google stays here or not.

GWEN IFILL: At the U.S. State Department today, spokesman P.J. Crowley said, Google’s decision raises questions about U.S.-China business relations.

P.J. CROWLEY, assistant secretary of state for public affairs: Were I China, I would — I would seriously consider the implications when one of the world’s most recognizable institutions has decided that it’s too difficult to do business in China. And that has implications. But that ultimately is something for China to evaluate.

GWEN IFILL: For now, Google says it will not close its research and sales division, which still operate in Beijing.