By granting ICP (Internet Content Provider) licence renewal for one year to Google, the Chinese government showed political savvy to the world, defusing a thorny issue. Many China observers were expecting the worse to happen, ever since Beijing put Google on notice, telling the company that the Hong Kong redirect was unacceptable. The Hong Kong redirect for search started in late March, and ran until late June.
The whole Google China confrontation has made one thing clear: Google did not have a channel for dialogue with the Chinese authorities since the company issued its statement in January, saying that it would refuse to censor content on its Google.cn search engine. By taking an uncompromising stance on censorship with the Chinese government, Google made it very hard, if not impossible, to sit down and negotiate with any Chinese government counterparty, since this would have amounted to the Chinese side implicitly acknowledging that censorship could be negotiated with Google. No matter how you looked at it, this was a poor negotiating strategy, making a climbdown for both sides almost impossible, and an uneasy confrontation unavoidable.
With no official channels for discussions available, Google had to rely on back channels to communicate with the Chinese government. It is now obvious that the “suggestion” to Google to redirect to Hong Kong was a play or trial balloon floated to Google, which was then later withdrawn, when Google was told that the Hong Kong redirect was deemed unacceptable at the end of June.
Now, even though Google has its ICP licence, it can only provide music and products search, not Web page search. Among China’s urban intelligentsia, Google was popular because of its web page search; now that service is not available.
In the coming year, mobile services will grow in China as smartphones become more popular. In this field, map services are just as important, if not more important than search. Unfortunately for Google, and all other non-Chinese companies, they cannot provide map services in China.
Google may have its ICP licence for now, but its troubles and crises in the fastest growing major Internet market have just begun. The Chinese government is the cat, and Google is the mouse.