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China slams Google's decision to end search censorship

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2010-03-23

The Chinese government swiftly denounced US web giant Google's decision to redirect Chinese visitors to it's uncensored Hong-Kong platform, accusing it of trying to "politicise a commercial issue". Chinese firewalls still block some search results.

A day after Google announced that it had stopped censoring its Chinese-language search engine, Beijing slammed the California-based company’s decision, calling it “totally wrong” and accusing the Internet search giant of trying to “politicise a commercial issue”.

On Monday, the Internet search and advertising giant announced it had stopped self-censorship on google.cn, which had meant blocking search results on sensitive issues such as Tibet and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Google's action came two months after it claimed it had been the victim of cyber attacks originating from China.

"This was never about our business in China, it is about censorship"

“We said in January that we would no longer censor searches in China; that we could no longer abide by that,” Google’s Europe spokesman Bill Echikson told FRANCE  24. “We went into China thinking we could give more information to Chinese users and that outweighed the pain of filtering some of the searches. Over the last year and what we’ve experienced in terms of the frequent cut-downs and then the attacks on our systems, we felt that the bargain no longer held, or could be seen as positive.”

In a posting on the company’s official blog Monday, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said Google’s online services on its Chinese site would be redirected to Google.com.hk in Hong Kong, where uncensored searches would be displayed in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China.

Shortly after the announcement, the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, quoted an unnamed official as saying, "Google has violated the written promise it made on entering the Chinese market."

On Tuesday, during a regular press briefing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Google’s move was an isolated act and would not have any impact on China-U.S. relations - “unless some people want to politicise it”.

Breaking the ‘Don’t be Evil’ motto

Relations between China and the US have been strained in recent months over a series of sensitive issues including the status of Taiwan, Tibet, trade and the value of the Chinese currency.

Reporting from Los Angeles, FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick said that while China was accusing Google of trying to get political mileage out of the latest spat, the California-based company viewed it as an ethical issue.

“Chinese officials are calling Google’s decision ‘totally wrong’ and are accusing the company of trying to politicise a commercial issue,” he said, “While Google is saying it is not willing to forgo its ethical policy which consists of honouring freedom of access to information in every country.”

Meanwhile Chinese media reaction to the news has been harsh. The China Daily 

newspaper, considered Beijing’s English-language mouthpiece, said Monday that Google was ignoring its moral responsibilities by allowing unfettered access to unfiltered information.

Columnist Taotao Bujue said the search company’s policies ran contrary to its motto “Don’t be Evil” by not respecting the need for state censorship on sensitive issues.

He writes: “It seems the company believes providing a search engine in cyberspace is like building an expressway and it should not be responsible for whatever is happening on the road. This belief, or excuse, is helping Google to avoid taking responsibility in the fight against harmful information and copyright infringements.

“Google might remain one of the greatest companies in the world in terms of innovation, but not in terms of its sense of responsibility. Sometimes, doing nothing equals being evil.”

Google has said it plans to maintain its sales, research and development teams in China, which has the world's largest online population at 384 million.

In practical terms, re-directing traffic through the company’s Hong Kong site will not make much difference to the average Chinese user’s browsing experience, as Beijing has imposed its own web filter on domestic Internet traffic which has been dubbed the “Great Firewall of China”.

Date created : 2010-03-23

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