Google takes steps to stay in China

The Google company logo outside of the Google China headquarters in Beijing.


Late last night, Google told the world on its website it'll make changes to keep its
Internet license in China. The company threatened a few months back to leave the country, taking exception to Chinese rules.

I thought Google pulled out. What's going on?

Google, originally, was offering censored search results for Chinese users. And as you recall, the company had a change of heart. It said it no longer wanted to voluntarily do the censoring. So then it took Chinese users and automatically sent them to a Google search site outside mainland China that didn't do any censoring. But today, the company said China is unhappy with that solution and is threatening to not renew its license. So Google has now made more changes in an attempt to keep its license.

And what does that mean for users?

Instead of automatically being switched to Hong Kong, visitors to "google.cn" will now see a tab that says "We have moved to google.com.hk." They can click on that, and will be taken to the Google site in Hong Kong, which has no Internet filtering.

That doesn't sound like much of a change. Why is that an important concession?

It's not a big change. It's a very small concession, but it's a face saving move. And it gives Google the ability to say, "We're not taking a moral stand. We're not saying that we object to China's policies. We're giving in a little bit so you can renew our license and let us do business in China."

Is Google's doing all this just to stay in China?

Some people think so. Besides the search engine, Google offers a bunch of services in China -- music, maps, shopping, analytics to track website traffic, and it has a mobile operating phone system in China. It may want to stay, but as one analyst put it, it has painted itself into a corner as far as options. Also, they have an obligation to the people they've hired. They don't want to leave the people stranded.

Does China have an incentive to keep Google there?

Yeah. China doesn't want to be seen as a country that heckles U.S. companies out of participating there. It's not easy to operate in China. But they do want American companies there. If Google hadn't been in China, Baidu would not be the service that it is now. Google has taught the marketplace about how to do search.

Why should I care?

Google is a company that says they want to do no evil, they want to be a good global citizen. And the business of China is business. And Google needs to be there and wants to be there. It's good for the U.S. But moreover, it's good for Internet freedom and the ability to express yourself freely online. Moreover, it could have an impact on the Chinese-American economic relationship.

What happens next?

Tomorrow, Google's Internet license expires in China and we will see if it gets renewed. Otherwise, Google's China site, as the company puts it, goes dark.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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