By Jacquelyn Wong
With the decision to start censoring Google’s reorganized Chinese search service in late March, China took the initial step in disentangling the Google/China clash by switching from local censors to sending searches from within China to Hong Kong. Yet, this simple remedy still proved controversial upon testing; while Google-users in China encountered blank pages displaying “the web page cannot be displayed” upon searching censored keywords such as Chinese leaders names, so too did several Google-users in Hong Kong. This in point, it is not only the Chinese “Googler” that is losing out, but even more so, Google Inc. and U.S./China relations on the greater scale.
For the 400 million Chinese “webizens” (web users), the closure of the Chinese Google search engine and censorship plan does produce larger hassles. For instance, imagine you are Chinese student assigned to complete research on cultural differences between China and Tibet. Though you are merely looking for general information on each country’s geographic regions, minority groups, and cultural festivals, you come across countless inaccessible web pages when simply typing “Tibet” into Google’s search box. Even more irritating, when you attempt to return to your search page, it does not load for a few minutes. Yet just a few hundred miles away in Hong Kong, webizens searching the same keyword are presented with all the Wikipedia, YouTube, and web sources they can fathom.
Though these differences may seem unfair or too restrictive on one side, Chinese internet users do have several other ways to evade the Google problem. In fact, Google only dominates about one third of the Chinese market. With Chinese engine Baidu scooping up most of China’s web population, the bigger loser in this case appears to be Google itself. Baidu’s users are extremely loyal, and in many ways, nationalistic about their country’s growing search engine. With the ubiquitous line “We have Baidu, we don’t need you,” some webizens appear happy to let go of Google. In fact, stock analysts have already predicted Baidu’s market share to rise from 57 to 59 percent in next couple of months. Even more hopeful for the Chinese search engine, by 2014 the Chinese internet market is planned to grow from $15 billion to over $20 billion—with much of the profits going to Baidu. This means that if Google pulls out of China or joins the list of websites blocked by the Chinese government, it could expect to lose $5-$6 billion of those profits.
That being said, this dispute is double-sided. But its effect on American/Chinese relations is still questionable. With politicians like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already in the debate, and Beijing’s accusations that Google is intrinsically linked to the U.S. government, this initial battle between an American company and Chinese censorship rules could spark a deepening clash potentially leading to unfriendly relations in the future.
But instead of merely focusing on whether Google or China is more reasonable in the current debate, it is important to think of the future implications growing from this dilemma. With the U.S.’s aim to continue strengthening its political and economic ties to China and the other Asian tigers, it may be better to reach some sort of compromise if possible. Yet the situation still seems up in the air. By carefully watching both Google and China’s actions in the near future will we be able to see the larger consequences of this international disagreement.