China: Google Backed Down Over Censorship Laws

Google's Beijing Office

Beijing’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced that licence approval and renewal had been granted to Google China after the company had agreed to respect Chinese laws.

If true, this would amount to a climbdown and major humiliation for the company, which announced in January that it would no longer agree to censorship of its content in China. 

Google, like other ISPs in China, is issued with a four-year licence, but the licence needs to be reviewed on an annual basis. The deadline for submission was on June 30.

Google China made it past the annual review, and the licence number is B2-20070004, while the annual review number is 203.

From March until June, Google’s search engine redirected to Hong Kong, but in late June, the Beijing authorities stated that this solution was unacceptable. Google.cn’s search page is now a very simple search box which is in fact a large button which links to the uncensored Google.hk site. This way, Google claims that it is still refusing to agree to the Chinese government’s censorship terms. 

Google and the Chinese government both claim victory, and it is not known if Google made undisclosed concessions to the Chinese government to get licence approval. At this stage, Google would not want to publicly contest the Beijing government’s interpretation publicly unless it’s prepared to get slapped down, or even thrown out of China.

Now Google’s dilemma is how to explain the situation to its investors and the foreign press: if it denies making concessions to Beijing, it will inflame relations with the Chinese authorities. If it remains silent, then many in the west will interpret that as meaning that it has betrayed its original commitment to stop censoring its content. 

No matter what it does, the company is between a rock and a hard place.

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