The Internet company Google has announced that it will stop censoring search results in China and redirect search requests from Chinese users through its server in Hong Kong. In an announcement posted on the company's Web site Monday, Google said the decision did not mean it was leaving China.
Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company could no longer censor its services or tolerate "persistent blocking" of such Web sites as Facebook and YouTube by China.
Instead, he said Google has come up with what he called a sensible solution. Now, when Chinese internet users click on Google.cn in China they will be redirected to uncensored servers in Hong Kong.
The decision comes a little more than two months after Google threatened to pull out of China, citing a trend of increasing censorship in the country as well as intrusions by what it called "a highly-sophisticated hacker attack that originated in China."
Drummond said figuring out how Google could make good on its promise to stop censoring searches on Google.cn had been hard.
Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology praised Google for following through on its commitment to protect human rights in China. She also said the decision to redirect Internet traffic to Hong Kong was brilliant.
"If they had simply pulled out of China, then I think that people would have viewed that as having abandoned the Chinese users," said Leslie Harris. "Instead, by basically recreating the site, the Chinese site, in Hong Kong and re-directing the users, they are making a very serious effort to make sure that the content remains available."
This she says has shifted the burden to China to decide whether it will permit access to the uncensored site.
Harris says that while she could not predict how China would respond, she says Chinese officials could just decide to block the Google.cn Web site or remove the domain all together.
"Either of those two actions is going to make it really clear, who really censors in China," said Harris.
Although Hong Kong is a part of China, it was granted some autonomy when it returned to Chinese rule 13 years ago - which allow it to retain civil liberties not found in other parts of the country.
In a statement Monday, U.S. National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Mike Hammer says the White House was "disappointed" that Google and China could not reach a deal.
The White House says it respects Google's decision and notes that it was told about it before the announcement was made public.
The NSC's statement reiterated the U.S. government's commitment to Internet freedom and opposition to censorship. It also expressed confidence that the U.S. - China relationship was mature enough to weather differences of opinion.
China was quick to criticize Google's decision. China's state-run Xinhua news agency said Google was totally wrong to stop censoring its Chinese language Web site and blame China for hacker attacks.
The decision to redirect searches to its servers in Hong Kong comes as the debate with Google has been heating up in China.
Chinese state media have charged that Google is acting as a tool of the U.S. government, trying to penetrate the culture and values of the Chinese people.
Chinese officials have said that while many foreign companies make profits in China, they must respect all its laws.