Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More On Google Nuking China

First, a little bit of background. The Great Firewall has become even more repressive over the last year or two- measures that may have been put in place before the Olympics, but then continued long after the athletes and press corp left. Also, specific incidents have resulted in the censorship of various websites:

-Youtube was blocked last year after videos showing Chinese riot police beating Tibetan monks during the Spring 2008 Riots were posted. It remained blocked until the day I left and is still blocked, from what I've heard.

-Twitter and Facebook were blocked during the Uyghur anti-government riots last summer, out of a fear that angry Uyghurs were using the sites to communicate with each other and with Rebiya Kadeer. Kadeer has been smeared by the Chinese government as some sort of all-powerful terrorist mastermind, similar to their treatment of the Dalai Lama.

Ok, so Google has remained unblocked all this time. They arranged that by agreeing to censor results for searches related to topics like Tiananmen, human rights, Taiwan, Tibet, etc. Pathetic as that is, at least they aren't Yahoo, who managed to royally shit the bed two years ago:
"The journalist Shi Tao was sent to jail for 10 years for engaging in pro-democracy efforts deemed subversive after Yahoo turned over information about his online activities as requested by Chinese authorities."
Great job you terrible human beings! It's also worth noting that the recent government crackdown hasn't merely been limited to recalibrating the Great Firewall- Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human rights activist who survived the Tiananmen crackdown and more recently was one of the initial signatories of Charter 08, has been officially deemed subversive and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Some people have been calling this a bluff, but I think this post on TechCrunch makes a good point-
Google is ready to burn bridges. This is not how negotiations are done in China, and Google has done well enough there to know that. You don’t get results by pressuring the government in a public, English-language blog post. If Google were indeed still working with the government this letter would not have been posted because it has likely slammed every door shut, as a long-time entrepreneur in China Marc van der Chijs and many others said on Twitter. This was a scorched earth move, aimed at buying Google some good will in the rest of the world; Chinese customers and staff were essentially just thrown under the bus.
I think 'thrown under the bus' is an odd phrase to use given that this Chinese attempt to steal Google code and private emails from Chinese citizens is the straw (albeit a fairly heavy straw) that broke the camels back. This has been a long time in the coming. But the rest of the point is right on: if Google wanted to negotiate, this is very obviously not the way to do it. It seems very unlikely that Beijing would do anything to allow the perception of a foreign company bossing around the government.

As an aside, it seems that Google hasn't stopped censoring its results yet- my search for Tiananmen info using didn't uncover anything interesting. Perhaps they need time to index previously censored results, or maybe something else is happening? It is a mystery.

Another interesting thing is the reaction from Chinese netizens- they seem to be widely supporting Google. Beneath the obnoxious authors commentary on this page there are a bunch of translated Chinese message board comments on the subject. For example:
Shut it down.
The government already does whatever it wants.
Entering email boxes, deleting the account owners’ emails…
is tantamount to entering someone else’s company and kicking out the old customers.
Google can no longer do business, so of course they will want to leave.
I ding [support] you Google.
Your name will go down in history
I would still argue that Beijing is showing weakness with these actions- jailing dissidents and blocking sites and infuriating major companies to the point where they publicly tell you off and leave the country does have consequences in terms of riling up Chinese citizens. They aren't doing this simply because they can, but because they believe that Liu Xiaobo and videos of militarized police beating unarmed civilians and access to information about what really happened in '89 pose a threat to the survival of their one-party stranglehold on power.

So, the next move belongs to China.


  1. It's always been such an interesting issue.

    Didn't they give up information belonging to some activists before, to predictably disastrous effect? I thought that was the case, but now I can't find any information about it in the flood of stuff about this more recent story.

  2. I think you're thinking about the Yahoo case from two years ago, I linked it up there. Beijing asked for and got a bunch of info about a dissident who was then jailed and is still in jail, I think? I haven't heard about google itself doing this before, although I guess it's possible.

  3. What the heck are these little animations under and why don't we have them on google?

    PS this came up when I searched for the word "square"
    looks like the walls are down if I am not mistaken.

    seems a lot different then this search of "square"

  4. This has been a long time in the coming.

    Do you think that's more due to it being a PR disaster for google in the US or because of the escalating problems with the Chinease government making the situation unworkable from a business standpoint? Or Both?