Google on Monday kept the promise it made in January to stop censoring search results in mainland China by closing Google.cn and redirecting search queries from mainland China to its servers in Hong Kong.
The Chinese government reacted by declaring that Google had broken the promise it made when it began operating in the country.
“Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks,” said an unnamed government official with China’s State Council Information Office in a report published by the state-run Xinhua news service. “This is totally wrong. We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.”
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on China’s strongly worded response to its actions.
But Google’s partners in China appear to be moving to distance themselves from the company.
China Mobile reportedly plans to cancel a deal to feature Google Search on its home page, according to The New York Times, and China Unicom has apparently shelved plans to release an Android-based phone.
Such punitive action against Google could pose problems for the Chinese government however.
Rebecca MacKinnon, visiting fellow at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, observed in a blog post on Tuesday that retaliation is likely to deepen the anxiety of the foreign business community about China’s trade practices and to harm U.S.-China trade relations.
Andrew Lih, USC Annenberg Journalism professor and director of new media, suggests that Google’s repudiation of censorship in China has touched a nerve in the country.
“The fact that there’s been kind of a strong reaction from the PRC authorities is a little bit surprising because it probably means that the situation has reached a point where they cannot control everything anymore,” he said in a phone interview.
The PRC doesn’t have the same sort of jurisdiction in Hong Kong as it does in mainland China, owing to the “One country, two systems” structure put in place after the British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
The fact that Google has stopped voluntarily censoring search results in China doesn’t mean that access to blocked content will become easier there. Queries sent to Hong Kong about sensitive political subjects are now being blocked by the so-called Great Firewall of China rather than stripped from search results lists by Google.
But Lih believes this may make censorship more apparent to Chinese Internet users and may prompt more interest in the issue among people who might otherwise be content to remain apolitical. “You’re going to have great number of folks who are going to run up right against the Great Firewall,” he said, “and people are going to start asking questions.”