Whether you regard Google’s market share as impressive or disappointing, compared to its dominance elsewhere, there is little doubt it is not a household name in China in the same way that it is abroad.
But Hu Li, a student in Beijing, told the BBC he admired what he called the company’s “heroic” decision to offer an unfiltered service, and hailed the announcement to pull out if it could not reach its objective.
Some people even laid flowers outside the company’s Beijing headquarters, in the hi-tech Haidian district, as a mark of respect.
For years, Western companies have accepted that business is done a certain way in China—agreeing to government interference that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere, from stifling free speech to setting up Communist Party cells. And over the past generation, outside political leaders have drawn a similar conclusion, choosing to play down human rights in the hopes of effecting change.
The Google syndrome caps growing complaints by foreign businesses over a deteriorating business environment. Both the European Chamber and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in China have issued reports sharply critical of China’s business environment. During the 1980s and ’90s, foreign businesses were assiduously courted by China’s leaders and responded by bringing to China technology, training and international best practices.
In recent years, however, foreign businesses have complained that the official line has shifted. Younger bureaucrats are more nationalistic and skeptical of the value of letting in foreign companies, Mr. Wuttke says. Last year, for example, foreign executives said bidding practices for wind energy were rigged to exclude foreign companies.
A senior Microsoft Corp. executive said that “Google would do disservice to Chinese people” by leaving China because Google censors its Chinese search results less aggressively than Chinese local competitor Baidu and other Chinese portal companies. A pullout by Google would strip Chinese Internet users of a good alternative, the executive said.
“It’s a tragedy if Google pulls out of China,” said Xu Hao, a junior studying Japanese at Tongji University in Shanghai. Wu Zhiwei, a sophomore studying philosophy at Fudan University in Shanghai, said “a lot of people are very angry at government censorship,” and also said he understands that it contradicts Google’s philosophies on free-Internet use.
Internet users continued to comment on the news, however. Some worried their Google e-mail accounts would be deleted, and others expressed concern that Chinese authorities would further tighten its Internet controls. “Our postings on the Internet are deleted by [other] Web sites, or when we upload pictures showing bad things on the street, they are deleted … I don’t know what to do without Google,” Ms. Xu said.
While Google’s threat is interesting, one can’t help but think about the double standards being used to assess China-
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said Google’s allegations “raise very serious concerns and questions.” “We look to the Chinese government for an explanation,” Mrs. Clinton said on a visit to Hawaii. “The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy.”
US telecom companies and banks allow the US government to snoop over its citizens (“legal” hacking), foreign banks sold out their clients on account of “tax evasion,” and how can one forget the fit the Indian government threw over BlackBerry (and, from the past, the shenanigans of George Fernandes).
China is uncomfortable when it comes to Tibet, “human rights” and ten other subjects, and other countries have their own list. Hypocrisy.