Photo: Associated Press
Google overplayed its initial threat to exit China by backing itself into a corner. The company’s clever decision to exit the country by merely redirecting its China site to Hong Kong, however, has salvaged a small victory from the jaws of defeat and put the Chinese government back on the defensive.
By initially painting the censorship issue in black and white–we stop censoring or we leave–Google left itself little wiggle room. Because the Chinese government can’t afford to be seen as caving to the demands of an impudent foreign company, this declaration left no option but for Google to exit China.
The way Google has exited the country, however–redirecting its China site to its Hong Kong site–is very clever. This move also appears to have startled the Chinese government, which issued a volley of silly press releases denouncing the move.
By simply redirecting Google.cn to Hong Kong instead of unplugging it and maintaining the rest of its operations in China, Google has:
- Maintained all of its China traffic
- Stopped censoring its search results
- Forced the Chinese Government to censor the search results (via the Great Firewall)
- Made clear to Chinese citizens and the world just what content is being censored (those searching for the Tiananmen Square uprising, for example, now get an error page instead of no search results)
- Retained the option to redirect the traffic back to China.cn if an agreement with the Chinese government can be reached.
This move, along with Google’s publication of an “evil meter” that tracks in real time what China’s government is blocking, has made China’s childish censoring even obvious to the rest of the world. Because Google is no longer an agent of the Chinese government, meanwhile–the government is now doing the censoring, not Google–it has been able to retain the moral high ground without necessarily sacrificing its entire position in the world’s fastest growing Internet market.
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