In China, it is customary for guests to remove their shoes before entering a household.
As a guest in China, Google should abide by this custom: take off its shoes at the door and respect the home it is in.
Google announced it would stop cooperating with Chinese Internet censorship on January 12, according to the Associated Press. Citing attacks from hackers on its computer systems and China’s attempts to “limit free speech on the Web,” Google has threatened to pull out of the country altogether, creating uncertainty over the company’s Chinese operations and Chinese-language search engine, Google.cn. Google has also delayed the release of its new cell phones in China.
Google needs to face reality. When it entered China in January 2006, the company knew what it was getting into. China is a communist government, and while its economy has adopted more free market principles, the official line is still communism. The government has ultimate control over regulatory affairs, both for its population and for its commercial endeavors. It boils down to respect. You honor the principles of a business contract. You respect the laws of the country you’re in.
In the dance between an Internet giant and an economic superpower, one of them must take the lead. Google’s stake in China is too large — revenue will be lost not only from Google.cn, but also from its emerging cell phone market. The Chinese government is not known for surrendering to foreign demands, and Google should recognize this hard-line stance and rethink its threat. Besides, Google isn’t a country unto itself, even if it is acting like one. They have far more to lose. If Google leaves, China will still have Baidu, its predominant domestic search engine, which will gladly fill the void. And China will still breed its numerous engineers and skilled programmers — resources Google is thirsting for to preserve its research and development operations.
However, it can be argued that Google’s absence will be a disadvantage to the Chinese population. No one can deny the benefits of Google as a resource — search engine, documents, news, e-mail –- they do it all. Yet coupled with the fast-pace of the Chinese economy, the shutting down of Google will create a power vacuum which will inevitably be filled in an instant. Baidu, anyone? Boasting news, pictures, music, maps and television, in addition to a Wikipedia-esque reference, Baidu is an alternative to Google. And it adheres to Chinese censorship.
China’s predicted gross domestic product growth of 9.5 percent for the first quarter of 2010 confirms its place at the forefront of the global economy. Google needs to note the precarious financial situation of the United States and should act pragmatically with respect to its future in China.
“Those who disrupt the free flow of information in our society or any other pose a threat to our economy, our government and our civil society,” Hillary Clinton said Thursday, according to the AP. “Countries or individuals that engage in cyber-attacks should face consequences and international condemnation.”
Clinton’s affirmation of American commitment to “freedom of the Internet” transformed Google’s business dispute into a political issue. It is unacceptable to use Google’s cyber-attack as a pretext for criticism of China as a whole or to create unwarranted stress on US-China relations.
“Foreign enterprises in China need to adhere to China’s laws and regulations, respect the interests of the general public and cultural traditions, and shoulder corresponding responsibilities,” said Ma Zhaoxu, a foreign ministry spokesman.
Google’s business conflict has been taken out of context and is now stirring overall international relations. The United States and China are ideologically opposed: communism is an anathema to capitalism. Rather than holding China to their standards, American companies and officials need to recognize and respect this fundamental difference. China should also promote mediation by assuming responsibility for the attacks; however, the country should not be cowed into abandoning their fundamental principles simply to honor the demands of a billion-dollar corporation.
Modern Chinese society is built on communist tenets, a pillar of which is censorship. The government gets final say. If they want to open new subway lines before the Olympics, they will be opened. If they want to build three five-star hotels in a year, they will be built. If they want it to rain, it will rain. China is its own country, and it is not Google’s place to tell them how it should be run.
If Google hopes to promote freedom by pulling out of China, it needs to grasp reality. Whether or not China has a censored American search engine really won’t make a difference. Even though the US doesn’t like it, there isn’t much they can do about it — the Google controversy won’t change China’s stance.