The diplomatic and political posturing between Google and the Chinese government escalated to new heights today, with China’s Minister of Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong issued a stern warning that Google must obey Chinese law…and will face serious repercussions if it fails to do so.
“I hope Google will abide and respect China’s laws and regulations,” said Yizhong, speaking on the sidelines of China’s annual legislative session. “It is irresponsible and unfriendly if Google insists in doing something that goes against China’s laws and regulations, and it will have to pay the consequence for doing so.”
Yizhong noted that if Google were to withdraw from China, it wouldn’t have a significant impact on China’s growing Internet marketplace: unlike most of the rest of the world—where Google dominates Internet search—Google is a second second in the Chinese market to Baidu.
Google launched its Chinese operation in 2006 to criticism that it was bolstering China’s enormous Internet censorship regime, which routinely blocks information the Chinese government believes to be disruptive or dangerous. However, in the wake of recent cyberattacks on Google and other companies—apparently targeting accounts of Chinese human rights activists—Google has said it wil stop censoring search results on its Google.cn search engine, and may withdraw from the Chinese market entirely.
The incident has heightened tensions between the U.S. and China, with the Obama administration elevating Internet freedoms as a major plank in its foreign policy platform. China has equated the U.S. stance to cultural imperialism. “We need to preserve our nation’s interest, our people’s interest, we cannot be relaxed with any information that will cause harm to the stability of our society, to our system, and to the health of our under-age young people,” the BBC quoted Yizhong as saying. “So, of course, what needs to be shut down will be shut down, what needs to be blocked will be blocked.”
In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal is reporting (subscription required) that Google is preparing to stop censoring search results in China in the next few weeks, and is working on arrangements to keep other portions of its operation up and running in China without completely withdrawing from the Chinese market.
[Photo credit: Xinhua]