News / Asia

Google Seeks Compromise with China

A man walks past the Google company logo outside the Google China headquarters in Beijing (file)
A man walks past the Google company logo outside the Google China headquarters in Beijing (file)
Jan Sluizer

The Internet search firm Google says it has come up with a compromise as it seeks to renew its Internet content provider license in China.  The company has tried to offer an uncensored search site to Chinese users, while the Beijing government has demanded censorship.  

When Google launched in China in 2006, the Chinese government objected to some of the material available through the company's website, specifically its unfettered access to news and photos.  So Google self-censored its site, drawing objections from free speech and human rights advocates.

For the past three months, the Google website in China has offered a blank page that automatically redirects Internet users to an uncensored Google site in Hong Kong.  Although Chinese Internet users can access the site, the Chinese government's Great Firewall system blocks what the authorities do not want people to see.

Journalism professor Andrew Lih at the University of Southern California says at least Google can say they are no longer party to the censorship.

"They basically said, 'We're not going to censor ourselves.  If there's any censorship that is going to happen, it's going to be by the Great Firewall, which is out of our hands,'" he said.

But the Chinese government objected to Google's solution.

The company feared that its license renewal application would be denied, which would force Google to close its lucrative operation in China.  So the company has offered a compromise.  

Instead of automatically redirecting users to its Hong Kong site, Google's home page in China will offer non-controversial material such as entertainment, consumer information and translations.  The homepage will have a link to Google's Hong Kong site, aspects of which the Chinese government can block.

Steven Levy, a senior writer with Wired magazine, says that if Beijing does not accept Google's compromise and forces the company out of the country, it will not be good for China.

"It sends a very bad signal to American companies, really companies all over the West, that it's difficult to do business there.  Maybe they shouldn't.  And then their innovations don't become available to Chinese people and the Chinese companies," he said.

Google's license renewal application is due on Wednesday.   

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