The world’s most populous country and its best-known brand are in a new kind of war today, with the search engine formally opening hostilities after a series of incursions by the e-PLA.
Both sides have plenty to lose, with Google admitting it may have to withdraw from the potentially lucrative Chinese market – the world’s largest, with more than 300 million Internet users – and the Chinese government likely to lose international respectability over allegations that it participated in or tolerated the hacking of Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists and others.
Another risk for the Communist Party is that it seems to be incurring the wrath of that same online community, which has already learned to live, grumpily, without sites such Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The Chinese Internet is abuzz today with news that Google will stop censoring searches on google.cn – and may soon withdraw from China completely; raising the possibility of a Chinese Internet that increasingly exists as a separate entity from the rest of the World Wide Web.
Here’s a quick sampling of some of what is being said (note: Baidu, which cooperates with Chinese government censors, is the most popular search engine in the country, with more than 60 per cent of the market):
“Alas, a huge country of 1.3 billion people and 9.6million square meters land can't accept a website, sad” – a netizen named “Han” from Beijing who posted at the news.qq.com site.
“I knew this day was coming. (With a slogan like) “Don’t be evil” Google, you can’t stay long here.” – “Liyuan” from Wuhan, also at news.qq.com
“How sad this news is indeed! A world with only Baidu’s rules is not what I want to see!” – “Tianlu” from Wuhu City at the same site
Tianlu’s post drew a reply from a netizen who gave their name as “Xiangmatou”: “This is what the people in power would like to see the most. It is easier and more convenient for them to rule people’s views and the direction control of information.”
The discussion at the Chinese website of the Global Times newspaper was tamer, with some openly doubting whether Google would carry through on its threats:
“Isn’t it a hype? China is such a big market. How can Google be willing to give up such a big cake? But if it is true, it is a loss for us, because Google has more sources than Baidu. It’ll be a pity!” was one representative reader post.
(Interestingly, the state-run Xinhua news service took a similar line, suggesting that Google’s decision was not yet final and that the government was “seeking clarity” on the Internet giant’s intentions.
The U.S.-based China Digital Times, meanwhile, has been translating and compiling some of the reaction to the Google-China spat on Twitter (which can be accessed in China by those able to reach a Virtual Private Network. Some of the most interesting:
@hecaitou: After Google leaves China, the world’s top three websites on Alexa —Google, Facebook and Youtube are all blocked in China. This is not an issue of Google abandoning China, but one of China abandoning the world.
@mranti Withdrawal of Google means: 1 Scaling the wall is now an essential tool 2 Techies, you should immigrate
@lysosome On campus discussion forums Google tag has been removed
@Fenng Ten years online has turned me from an optimist into a pessimist
Speaking of Twitter, I’m regularly “tweeting” on this (and other topics) over at http://twitter.com/markmackinnon