Google China chatter collected

Photo of flowers at Google Beijing headquarters by Junyu Wang (王俊煜) used under Creative Commons license.

I spent the night thinking that I would write something about Google’s decision on China, and it seems my blogging spirit has eroded since the days of Sinobyte. If in the end I have something to offer, you’ll hear about it, but for now, I think the most useful thing is to look at what others have said. In no particular order, here’s a tab dump.

  • Google’s Threat Echoed Everywhere, Except China from The New York Times‘ Andy Jacobs, Miguel Helft, and John Markoff: The news of Google’s announcement was predictably closely regulated on Chinese news sites.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a statement indicating that on the issue of incursions into business or activist information, “We look to the Chinese government for an explanation.”
  • Rebecca MacKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal that Google has gotten on the right side of history and will be rewarded when an event like the fall of the Berlin Wall opens the past to analysis companies’ roles in censorship.
  • MacKinnon also notes that she believes Google “has done the right thing.”
  • Ethan Zuckerman sees four ways to read Google’s decision: (1) Google decided to stop being evil and responded to criticism that its adherence to Chinese government standards was damaging. (2) Google retreated from a rough market, where it was struggling to gain market share against Baidu. (3) Google abandoned Chinese users, who had come to depend on the service. (4) Google is about to join the front lines of the anti-censorship wars, which would likely be necessary if it is to maintain any Chinese user base despite a likely block by Internet authorities.
  • Google believes the network breaches were state sponsored, reports Robert McMillan at MacWorld. The story focuses on elements of state-sponsored corporate espionage and includes some anonymous quotes that suggest Google has been dealing with this since late December.
  • Michael Anti tells BBC he supports Google’s decision. (I can’t listen to this just now, because I am in a library.)
  • Evgeny Morozov is skeptical of Google’s motivations: “Are we really supposed to believe that, until they experienced cyberattacks on the email accounts of the Chinese human rights activists, they thought that their counterparts in the Chinese government were all good and well-meaning chaps who would never think of such a thing?” He argues that it seems more plausible that Google wanted to get out of a bad market and wrapped the decision in human rights-related PR copy.
  • Based on a classified FBI report, the Daily Beast’s Gerald Posner puts the news in the context of a Chinese cyber threat.
  • Junyu Wang has nice photographs of the pseudo-vigil outside Google’s office at Wudaokou in Beijing.
  • Dharmishta has a round-up of early reactions that covers several angles noted here and several others.
  • Sarah Lacy at TechCrunch: “Google has clearly decided doing business in China isn’t worth it, and are turning what would be a negative into a marketing positive for its business in the rest of the world.”
  • James Fallows sees this development as a transition in China’s leadership to a “Bush-Cheney era,” by which he means the country’s government is turning into one “much of the world [sees] as deliberately antagonizing them.” He also argues that “In terms of information flow into China, this decision probably makes no real difference at all,” because most users aren’t going for restricted information, and those who want it know how to get around blocks.
  • Imagethief, coming at the announcement from a corporate PR angle, sees the Google announcement as the total abandonment of a strategy shared by many foreign businesses in China whereby they attempt to align themselves with the government in order to avoid problems and access the Chinese market.
  • Danwei’s regular feature looking at the top story in a Chinese newspaper reminds us that in other big China search engine news, Baidu was hacked yesterday.
  • Nart Villeneuve, an Internet security expert and lead author of the 2008 report on the GhostNet cyber-espionage attacks, says this news should reminds us: “The nexus of censorship, surveillance and malware attacks allows China is the key to China’s information control policies. It is not just about the GFW.” He also says he hopes Microsoft and Yahoo will follow Google on this.
  • Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy puts the move in the context of increased U.S.–China tensions in 2010.
  • Jonathan Zittrain anticipates that if Google pulls down its China-based operations, it may be well positioned to develop circumvention methods to provide access to Google despite government restrictions.

Most likely, I’ll have more to say on this soon. I think over all the interpretations out there make sense. Ethan’s point that there are many ways to look at the decision I think shows that this was no simple decision. The Macworld story mentions that top Google officials met on Christmas Eve to figure out what to do. For at least three weeks now, this decision has been on the minds of some of the leaders of the industry.

It’s interesting to note, too, that this comes amidst a general turn to negativity in U.S. media on China. Following the COP15 meeting, a dominant narrative had China as the spoiler (this after the media got done lambasting the White House for failing). Beginning with Paul Krugman’s op-ed on the currency problem, there has been a set of accusations that China is the problem in the U.S. economy. This news, and the news on China’s newest missile tests, have taken the environment and economy confrontations and added corporate and national security elements, as well as reviving human rights narratives.

For someone who watches events closely, I must say the Google news is big. The general tone of antagonism toward China, however, does not seem to be based in any new developments other than a change in the conventional wisdom in newsrooms and chattering classes. It’s an open question whether antagonistic rhetoric in this situation reflects an existing antagonism or fuels a new one.

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