January 22nd, 2010
02:38 AM GMT
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In her Internet freedom policy speech Thursday, you can hear U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton channeling Winston Churchill as she described a “new information curtain is descending across much of the world.”

Indeed, the echoes of Cold War enmity and “iron curtain” rhetoric seem to reverberate in the past week, with companies – rather than countries – as proxy combatants.

The brinksmanship of Google’s announcement it may pull out of China because of self-censorship requirements and what it claims as recent China-led cyberattacks has been followed by state controlled media characterization of the company as “White House’s Google."

Baidu, China’s largest Internet search engine and Google’s biggest competitor in the country, on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against Domain.com saying the domain name server provider didn’t do enough to thwart cyberattacks led by a group calling itself the “Iranian Cyber Army.” When Yahoo gave tepid support to Google’s stand in China, its Chinese partner Alibaba.com countered that the statement was “reckless, given the lack of facts in evidence.”

Fresh in the minds of all Western companies doing business in China is the arrest of mining giant Rio Tinto staff in China on allegations of stealing “state secrets” as part of its iron-ore negotiations with Chinese steel makers.

The current debate blows a hole in the idea that liberalization of the flow of information, like its embrace of capitalism, is inevitable. That needs a rethink.

A free choice of brands of soap in China has not led to a free flow of ideas.  Indeed, as the new decade begins and China is poised to become the world’s second largest economy (if it hasn’t already), the Chinese government has only ramped up efforts to secure “The Great Firewall of China.”

Google’s Chinese staff interviewed in the past week felt the company’s controversial choice to enter the market was a way to help transform China from within. That belief, now, seems to have given way to disillusion.

Among the reasons why Google may quit the world’s largest Internet market is fear of the long-term effect of the Chinese market on company policy. If China eventually becomes Google’s largest moneymaker, it would give Beijing extraordinary leverage to influence company policy in other markets.

The Google-China spat seems to me one of the first salvos in a fight that may well characterize the next decade: The conflict between the great economies of the West, built on free and unfettered flow of information, and access to the exploding economy of China, which most economists agree will surpass the U.S. as the number one economy in the next 15 years.

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. lzha174

    I really dont think this is about censorship. Its all about business and money

    January 22, 2010 at 3:38 am |
  2. lzha174

    Google is not making any money in China atm

    January 22, 2010 at 3:39 am |
  3. JesterJames

    I think the problem is that Google is based in the US. Google have such a dominating presence on the internet. Imagine what happens if US demands or force Google to hand over search profile of internet searches for a particular country. Google could be an incredibily powerful espionage tool for the US government. Who is to say Google isn't already acting in that capacity?

    What if US decide to distablize a country by spreading disinformation or propaganda through Google, with aim to causing mass panic or riot? Especially now that Google is moving into the mobile internet space. Imagine a mass texting campign of inflamtory falsehood, it be akin to shouting fire in crowded theatre only you do it to an entire country. To allow Google to dominate your country's internet is to allow US government finger on the switch of your country's information infrastructure. I think people do have good reason to be wary. More and more countries are coming to this realization.

    January 22, 2010 at 5:36 am |
  4. travis in tokyo

    its got many points to it. it is about the censorship, but if they were making tons of money instead of a good amount of money they wouldnt bring it up.

    also having all the offices run the censorship programs also cost them more money, which adds to the second major point that they would increase the rev if china didnt require them to self censor.

    and finally these self censor programs leave holes in the defense of googles sytems thus making it easier to hack them using the great firewall of china so google has to spend more money, of which their already not making a great deal, on keeping their systems safe.

    so if google is getting 20% of the pot (i dont think its that high but this is just an example) that would be fine if they didnt have any outstanding expences or could keep their moto of dont be evil and have free and open searches aka being morally just. but then they have to spend 5% on self censoring and 5% on security so in the end they really only make money as if they had 10% of the market. again if they had 80% of the market then this would only knock them down to 70% and thus they would still be making tons of money so their morals would take a back burner but since they are not their morals step to the forground

    January 22, 2010 at 5:54 am |
  5. guest 313

    Get with the program China – no one wants your brand of censored, state-controlled BS in the modern world. The rest of the world knows all too well what you're all about when it comes to human rights (violations), fair business practices (or lack thereof) & political ambitions. Push the rest of the world, we'll push you right back.

    January 22, 2010 at 6:33 am |
  6. Dennis-Cheung

    We hope Googel will always be stay in China. Chinese needs her.

    January 22, 2010 at 7:29 am |
  7. ghost geezer

    Corporate Cold War. Now we have coined a term here
    worth pondering. Is the withering away of states creating shells
    hermit crab corporations. Is war that actually gets results now
    to occur in what may be the true halls of power?

    Here we have a hybrid, a corporation against a host state which,
    to stretch a point, may well be reconfiguring into some kind of
    mega company that makes lo tech toys full of cadmium.

    And it's midnite, and I'm talking through my hat. But I just finished
    Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly, and I live in California. That
    gives me so many credentials to say that wherever power is, it
    is not to be found either in California or in Washington. Gridlock
    is not power.

    January 22, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  8. Vivo

    However, Google has chosen to finally succumb to the Chinese government, Google has done this is clearly a lack of intellect. This is why goog;e maybe never be the first search engine in China.

    January 22, 2010 at 9:05 am |
  9. Jaques - Beijing

    google is making money in China. It holds 30+% of market share. Its share has been increasing, and would have done so further with the introduction of the new phone mobile searches. Those people arguing that google is quitting for commercial reasons are holding a totally illogical position. Google does make billions worldwide and a "few hundred million" only in china...but come on!!! This is clearly not google worrying that they "only" have 35% market share.

    Also, if Baidu followed accepted norms and Chinese laws about linking to pirated music then i wonder how low their market share would fall. I wonder if anyone wants to launch a lawsuit against Baidu for their MP3 search function??? Of course the Chinese courts would protect them, given that laws that don't help China are not enforced in China.

    January 22, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  10. lzha174

    I think we gotta give China more time to change. It is an old country with splendid history but also many flaws. If you see the new Chinese generations, they are actually quite open minded. With more young Chinese studying overseas, it will only get better until one day the gonverment will also be open minded.

    January 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  11. Love China

    Google and US government suck!

    January 23, 2010 at 12:41 am |
  12. Chris


    I am an American human rights activist IN EXILE in Europe. After a battle on a public health and safety issue against a US politician and corporation in which I could not afford a lawyer or even appear before the court because of chronic, debilitating pain (which I have since beaten with massive rehab), a court in a state in the Midwest said I am to NEVER EVER mention a politician or his organization "by implication or otherwise" OR I GO TO JAIL. This was in a judgement which ridiculously claimed I had vowed to ruin the politician's reputation (though the only two times I had mentioned his reputation, I had vowed to protect it!). Of course, no US Supreme Court decision has ever upheld an injunction in a libel and slander matter, and Near vs. Minnesota makes it clear that no one should have to appear before a judge to speak about a politician–but if you don't have $30,000-$120,000 sitting around to burn, this does not matter.

    As a result, I have permanently pulled up stakes from the United States and have made Europe my permanent home and am in exile as a human rights activist. Soon I will start speaking again and hope I get an arrest warrant for my political speech to make a point. And in my opinion, I can promise you when I post my political information, Google will be the first to fold and remove all search engine results for my materials when they get court orders from Missouri.

    I am doing this all to fight for political and social change in the United States and to guarantee that Americans are given lawyers when they dare speak out against their governments (in Europe it is a human rights violation if you do not receive a lawyer when sued for libel and slander–preventing lawsuits by corporations to bury you in legal fees and simply scare you away).

    The USA should get its own act in gear, or I will personally go to China and offer them my story so they can put human rights pressure on the United States as well. Americans deserve lawyers when speaking. Just like these "socialists" in Europe do. There is probably a reason that the United States ranked just 48th in terms of freedom of the press by "Reporters Without Borders" in 2007 (the year my case was "heard" in my absence). Perhaps not coincidentally, if I recall correctly, all but one or two European nations ranked well ahead of the USA on this list at the time.

    Additionally, I have an American friend in exile (asylum!) in the Netherlands who had enough proof to demonstrate that his life was in danger in the USA for his political speech (dealing mainly with corruption of legal officials)–now all of his postings disappear from Google. The HYPOCRISY OF IT ALL.

    I won't believe the propaganda anymore. You have to live it to see it. I personally won't believe anything that comes out of the American "civil justice system" again. Money carries the day. The average person does not stand a chance against a corporation. Forget it.

    January 23, 2010 at 2:54 am |
  13. George

    When In Rome, Do As The Romans Do.
    No country, no people like to be told what to do by foreigners.

    When China Internet users are more than the whole US population, US should learn something from China, instead of always telling the whole world what is right, and what is wrong.

    Among < 30% google share, small portion is google.cn (which threats china leaving)

    January 23, 2010 at 3:48 am |
  14. xyz

    At least, "Jaques – Beijing" could have free access to CNN.com from inside China and posted some negative comments about China and Google's main competitor here successfully.

    Don't forget CNN was considered the public enemy No.1 last year by some chinese people around the globe during the Olympic torch relay.

    January 23, 2010 at 4:39 am |
  15. Andreas Stockholm

    Funny how people seem so surprised about China and the way that country's totalitarian regime acts. China is a communist country that not too long ago was completely closed off to the outside world. It is also a fragile state internally which, if it embraced our western open rules, might crumble into a series of smaller states. This is not always obvious to us outsiders but the Chinese Communist party obviously cares more about this then some large western search engine company no matter where they come from.

    January 23, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  16. Alex

    It's facinating how freedom of information is being seen as an issue of morality or human rights. From my perspective, its really not about morality whatsoever–its more of a decision between two extremes. In the United States, we practice freedom of the press and unfettered information flow, but that has hardly translated into an honest press; in fact, what we have is probably the most noise–i.e. information claiming to be truth when its actually not true or largely speculative–in the world. Fox News is case in point–its a news source that more Americans watch than CNN and MSNBC combined, and yet the information they provide has been shown again and again to be either straight up fabricated or so entirely twisted and spun that any truth that was there to begin with has been lost.

    What that ultimately creates is a populace that may have the most access to truth, but in practice probably knows less truth than countries that have more censorship. We can see this especially ring true in the health care debate–we spent a month as a country discussing death panels, which never appeared in the health care bill in any form or capacity and so constituted one massive waste of our collective time.

    I find the problem is rooted in an attempt to take free market principles and apply them to information. If I'm dealing with two computers, I can figure out which one is better based on how fast they start up, how long they last, etc. However, it is far more difficult to be able to tell which information is "good" and which information is crap. What is especially interesting to keep in mind with regards to this is that in the United States, the group that knows arguably the most about their topics are heavily, heavily censored: academics. In order to publish an article–which is the primary way that academics speak to the world–each article is peer reviewed by typically 4 experts. And typically, there are massive revisions and changes that are required before the article is published–and these articles are coming from people who have dedicated their lives to studying the issue they are publishing on and so are far more expert than anyone you'll see hosting a news show.

    The point here is that academia feels that its vital to have quality control on the information that enters the scientific discussion because there is such massive potential for abuse. Thus, a government–and a people, really–wanting to have the quality control applied to information flowing into them is hardly an immoral act or a violation of human rights; instead, its a decision on how much you want to risk people knowing nothing because there is too much noise pretending to be truth and how much you want to risk real truth not getting through the quality control system.

    Now for sure there can be great abuses when censorship is established, but censorship on its own does not equate into abuses–in fact, I'd argue censorship is desirable for news just as it is desirable for academic publications. People are not stupid; however, people also do not have the time to really become experts on the social, economic, and political issues they are asked to voice their opinions about. So we must rely on people who become experts on these issues to give summary points. And when there is no quality control on who can claim to be an expert, we enter a realm of Fox News being the most watched news source in the US :).

    So I'd argue we must look at the specific country's implementation of censorship and look deeply at whether their is excessive abuse happening–abuse will happen with any system (we have abuse with complete freedom of information as discussed above)–before making any strong judgments about it. And I'm guessing most commentaries that are arising are not doing this. They are instead working from the principle that freedom of information and press is the ideal, but I believe there is good reason that this is not necessarily true. Instead, I'd argue that the ideal is having the population know the most truth, which means providing the most truthful information while at the same time filtering out all the junk that is pretending to be truth and would otherwise block people's abilities to find the truth.

    January 23, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
  17. Jack

    The Western media and American Government have themselves to blame. After all that violence instigated in Iran and some East European countries through Twitter and other Internet means, I wouldn't trust their "freedom of information" to be so noble and innocent. Google is just another henchman of US politicians who have no qualm screwing up one country after another if that serves their purpose. I also am skeptical about all these US NGOs. I wouldn't be surprised to see spies in their midst. They kept stressing transparency. Nothing about these "organizations" is transparent.

    Imagine if combatants dressed in Red Cross uniforms?

    January 23, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  18. Oriental Dragon

    Don't always blame China,there always have some difference between the East and the West,if you yhink what USA did or doing is the best,you are also cheating yourselves,look,why in the world there are still so smany people be against USA,I admit that USA has its own advantages and China still has many problems and we also hope that it can improve,but the saying which says"the Great Way is not built in one day" we need the mutual respect and understanding.only when we respect each other the wprld would become more harmonious,the whole world can't beccome the image the same as USA.if so the world would be so boring

    January 24, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  19. Rodney St.Michael

    GUANXI: Using Middle "Men" & the Middle Way to be Successful in China

    To understand China better, you have to know GUANXI–the art and science of relationships. It is related to the Wu Xing (5 dynamic elements) and the Pentacle of Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius or Master Kung Fu).

    Wood or Tree = Yellow people or "males"
    Water = Small Browns or "females"
    Earth = Blacks or "lesbians"
    Fire = Whites or "gays"
    Metal = Big Browns or "bisexuals"

    This "sheriff's badge" is an all-encompassing "ecological model" and a common political and corporate symbol. Each element is the tip of a 5-pointed "star" in the pentacle that shows the conflict relationships between the elements. For example, Fire feeds on Wood, just as Whites or "gays" prey on Yellows or "males." A firewall is needed to protect the forest from wildfire, which burns the world like Sodom and Gomorrah.

    But the circle around the 5-pointed star indicates the harmony relationships between the elements. For instance, Water nourishes trees, just as Browns or "females" provide sustenance to Yellows or "males."

    The trick to win in China is to do it through the other elements. Whites flaming China won't work. That would be "sodomy." Moreover, while an uncontrolled inferno is hell, atmosphere-filtered mild sunshine is beneficial to trees. Limiting and controlling the flames of Google-Gay desire is the key to alleviating American unhappiness and suffering. Even this comment board like many message boards are censored or moderated.

    The book SYNC MY WORLD: THIEF'S HONOR GA SK (ISBN: 978-0557171378) explains the concept of guanxi thoroughly.

    Rodney St.Michael

    January 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  20. lin4007

    Every day I look at the official filtered news, my personal site has been screened, I can not login facebook, and even today, to use a proxy server in order to login cnn, I was in China and is China's most developed city, close to Hong Kong, Shenzhen

    January 25, 2010 at 2:52 am |
  21. jeff meng

    Well, I can read CNN and post a comment. I'm a local chinese in Beijing.

    Most of USA companies making a lot of money in China. I guess Google also makes a lot of money. But it is not the market leader that makes it angry.

    There is no cold war in the commerical world. Capital flow is so easy. If capital faces hardness in the USA, it will flee to China to enjoy the capitalism here. That is what happened in the past 20 years.

    The USA need to do its own homework about the environment for capitals. In my opinion, the so called communist China is more like and capitalism China. The capitalism USA has many parts close to socialism and communism.

    January 25, 2010 at 4:12 am |
  22. FoodOnTheTable

    Who cares about freedom of speech or information censorship when you worry about food on the table for you and your family?? That is exactly what majority of people in China worry about.

    I don't get it. Let them live the way they want to live. Who is to say we are right. We could all be retarded if you look at us from other cultures' view. Who is to say they are dying for freedom of speech like us. Ask them what they care about and what they want. We should step out from our own little world every now and then.

    That applies to any disagreement or conflict with any nation or culture, not just limited to China.

    January 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
  23. Shawn

    Someone should organize a campaign to block information from going to any country that does what China does. If they are so concerned about our information then make sure they can't get any of it. Make it an all or nothing deal. Yes it's childish but China treats it's citizens like children anyhow so if you can't beat them - join them.

    This could be done at the infrastructure level - or by average citizens just by adding known keywords to all blog and comment posts so the Great Firewall will reset the connection when that page is opened. We can call it "Trillion Resets for Information Freedom and Liberty Everywhere" (TRIFLE)

    At the infrastructure level blocking Chinese internet traffic could also help with the hacking that everyone is worried about.

    And to prevent China from going to the WTO. We just need to pass some silly law that says web data must be blocked altogether to any country that systematically blocks some of the data.

    January 27, 2010 at 1:21 am |
  24. PASSER

    PERHAPS,the CPC (not China)would also like to say to GOOGLE:KNEEL DOWN,OR I WILL SHOOT!

    January 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm |
  25. PASSER

    Declined to cross-border pursuit.If someone really want to,the CNN should first be arrested.

    January 27, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  26. darthbob9

    Scottish deer pizzles are thought to boost stamina and were used by Chinese athletes at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Yes ... I said deer pizzles.

    January 29, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
  27. when will you ever learn

    dirty tricks, the hand behind the real terrors to mankind, wars on terrors, who is the real terror, who is who, A Made in US Bin-laden is now the nightmare of US. You reap what you saw.
    when will we ever learn. that all human share the same ancestors, we all came originally from east africa. why? I believe in only nature, the law of nature but nothing else. All systems created by man will never beat the system of nature. SO therefore, it is wiser to live in peace and harmony with one another. NOT Trying to takeover, control, invade, shadow others' countries. Let the mother nature run it's course. Let there be peace to all. the human beings of planet earth. No races no differences as we all are one! Ones living in nature with others living things on earth.

    February 1, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  28. gary

    Do you know that in NZ most of the Chinese websites in NZ have been used as a tool for the "brain wash" by the Chinese GCD. ? They raped the freedom of speech right of the readers in NZ. If people get into their political forum didn't agree with their misleading topic, they will use the editor's right to insult and suspend your ID./IP. for days or delete your ID/IP. forever. They utilized the spy programs and virus programs to monitor and control your personal computer, most of the opponents are pushed to connors to keep silent or bow their heads to those dirty controllers(they called it BZ or Internet police).

    I have been in NZ over 13 years but during the past time I was so disappointed at the basic speech right been robbed by those "Chinese Internet police"(most of them are students just graduated) in this free country of NZ, hope you guys or NZ government could do something to protect the basic speech right of Chinese "in NZ".

    February 2, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  29. Gary

    Incident of Goggle In China is not an issue of business nor a topic of cold war, It is a very serious problem of "speech freedom" or "human right". It is a shame that most of the Chinese were get used to been monitored abused and acted like dumbs/slaves for decades in China, so you can hear so much noise to defend for the ridiculous behaviour of GCD. ,because they are "Internet police" and their job is to mislead the public.

    I am a Chinese and I believe the justice will return back to those public of Chinese instead of those minority of GCD.

    February 2, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  30. Aril Kamala

    Why the big fuss about the web censure in China ? It does not cause any security or financial harms to American. Our immediate urgent needs are job and health for our families.
    If most of the people in China do not make a great deal out of it, why should we ?
    After China was exploited and humiliated for 200 years, may be people are willing to trade off some censureship with the security and prosperity .

    February 3, 2010 at 7:56 am |
  31. iCanfly

    The U.S.A government is hypocritical, Saying is not same as doing.

    February 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  32. Donna, Florida

    BUY AMERICAN, employ your family, friends and fellow Americans.
    That is the only thing that will put Americans back to work. Have a yard sale, clean out your closets and storage units. Stop buying imports.
    It is time for Americans to take care of America.
    Are you part of the problem? or the solution?

    February 5, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  33. Coda : Censorship Evil, Outsourcing Good

    Actions speak louder than words. Having painted itself into a corner with it's initial remarks and accusations, the fact is the attack on Goggle appears to have be done by small-time hackers exploiting a backdoor code in G-mail required by US Covernment law so it can spy on it's citizens.

    However, failing to convince the Chinese government to change it's laws to meet Goggle's demands, they now seem resigned to "Leaving China" by taking down it's search engine but apperently will maintain it's other businesses inc China including it's software development operations.


    I will be very interested to see how they explain this, but obviously they see no evil in paying Chinese less to do the grunt work so they can maximize profits on on hand while raising high the other to polish thier corporate concience a Sergi and Larry jet around the globe in their Gulfstreams promoting Goggle's corporate do-gooding such as publishing copyrighted works without compensating creators so they can rake-in more ad revenues to pay for the jet fuel.

    March 21, 2010 at 7:15 am |

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