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Google-China showdown: Some views from Beijing

In China, a few dozen mournful souls have begun a candlelight vigil outside Google’s Beijing offices.(I’d love to know more about who they are). But for the most part, the debate in China over the higher meaning of Google has been more muted than in the United States, where Google’s threatened withdrawl from China has ...

用一次性纸杯托起的烛光。有图有真相,图片由@twinimei拍摄;#GoogleCN
用一次性纸杯托起的烛光。有图有真相,图片由@twinimei拍摄;#GoogleCN

In China, a few dozen mournful souls have begun a candlelight vigil outside Google’s Beijing offices.(I’d love to know more about who they are). But for the most part, the debate in China over the higher meaning of Google has been more muted than in the United States, where Google’s threatened withdrawl from China has been widely interpretted as a harbinger of worsening US-China relations.

Within China, the Chinese-language state-run media carried relatively cursory coverage of Google’s threat to pull out of China, with scant mention of the alleged cyber security breaches. Here’s the (translated) barebones text of the Chinese-language Xinhua wire story:

Google announced on January 12th that it might shutdown Google.cn and withdraw from Chinese market completely.

Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond declared the announcement on Google’s official blog in the afternoon of the 12th.Chinese reporter later verified the announcement with Google and Google’scommunication department confirmed Mr. Drummond’s posting.

Google indicated that they will discuss with Chineseofficials about those legal issues in the next few weeks.

Google also cancelled its scheduled negotiation with China’sWritten Works Copyright Society on the 12th afternoon withouttelling why.

(That last line, perhaps, is meant to make Google sound like an especially irresponsible player?)

Meanwhile for the benefit of foreign reporters, China’s Foreign Ministry did convene a press conference to state that China’s laws are China’s laws:

After a day of silence, the Foreign Ministry said that China welcomed foreign Internet companies but that those offering online services must do so “in accordance with the law.” Speaking at a scheduled news conference, Jiang Yu, a ministry spokeswoman, did not address Google’s complaints about censorship and cyberattacks and simply stated that “China’s Internet is open.”

Twitter is, of course, officially banned in China, but the most tech-savvy Chinese "netizens" have found a way around the Great Firewall to use the micro-blogging service nonetheless. This group is, as Rebecca MacKinnon duly observed, a highly select sampling of Chinese public opinion: "The Chinese Twittersphere — comprised exclusively of people who aretech savvy enough to know how to get around censorship or they wouldn’tbe there —  is generally cheering the news [that Google won’t continue to follow existing censorship rules]."

While noting the selectivity of this group, it’s been interesting to follow tweet reactions around the hashtag #Googlecn. China Digital Times has translated some of them here: 

@qhgy RT @Lyooooo: If leaves I won’t use Baidu or let my children or grandchildren use it (If I have them) #

@zz4040 is a real man #

@Fenng Ten years online has turned me from an optimist into a pessimist #

@mranti Withdrawal of means: 1 Scaling the wall is now an essential tool 2 Techies, you should immigrate. Really #

That last tweet is from  Zhao Jing, a prominent political writer and blogger in Beijing who writes in English-language media as Michael Anti. He spoke at length with The New York Times‘ Andrew Jacobs, explaining why he thought that Google’s pulling out would “set a bad example for thebusiness climate in China and make a joke of the government claims of afree Internet.”

Christina Larson is an award-winning science and technology journalist based in Beijing. Twitter: @larsonchristina

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