As promised, Google stopped filtering
Chinese search results on Monday; users attempting to visit Google.cn are now redirected to Google.hk. That's the company's Hong Kong domain, which is not censored to comply with China's demands. The next move in the ongoing saga is China's; Google's decision to redirect mainland Chinese users to a different search portal will not guarantee those users' access if China decides to shut Google
down locally or blocks access to the site itself.
This entire standoff began 2.5 months ago when Google announced
it would no longer continue to censor results in China. The move was sparked by the Chinese government's attempts to hack into the Gmail accounts of certain human rights activists; Google eventually turned up evidence that the hackers in question had targeted at least 34 additional companies. During the last few months, Google stated
that it wanted to "run an unfiltered search engine within the law." Google never formally accused the government of actually sponsoring the hacking attempts, a move that may have been calculated to allow the Chinese government to save face.
Google competitors and knock-offs have not been slow to capitalize on the company's condundrum. Goojje up there refuses to change its logo, claiming anyone in China knows the difference between it and Google.
In a blog post entitled "A new approach to China: an update," Google's senior vice president of corporate development and CLO David Drummond wrote:
these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered—combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger—had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn. Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced—it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.
The Chinese government has yet to respond. For years, economists, pundits, and foreign policy experts have all collectively claimed that increased economic ties to China and even the limited adoption of a free market economy would drive advances in human rights and fuel the creation of democratic civil institutions. To date, this has not significantly occurred. While many Chinese do employ techniques to circumvent the Great Firewall, Internet users as a whole have not risen up demanding that the government cease its censorship.
The evolving situation in China has cast doubt on the theory that capitalism and democracy are as tightly linked as some have thought. Based on the relative balance of power between the government and the search giant, we're guessing that the Chinese probably will
pull the plug, but not before taking a little time to gauge world response and at least make a show of evaluating the acceptableness of Google.hk's unfiltered search results. International opinion has not proven to have nearly the impact on the country's domestic and foreign policies as was once hoped, but China has a vested interest in painting itself as the aggrieved party resorting to shutdown as a last resort.