Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 24 January 2010

Google’s in and out

I am sure that there are plenty of analysis of Google’s recent announcement to withdraw from China because of the inconsistency of the censorship they have to implement under Chinese regulations and with its corporate principles and because of recent hacker attacks on Gmail users and its subsequent decision to stay. Google had said that it would renegotiate its agreement with the Chinese government to see whether they could stay in the country and not censor content, but no one expected this to work out and many Western rights groups were already celebrating Google’s decision as a step that will trigger a change in Western corporate behaviour in China. But in the event, Google is staying.

I have not had the time to follow the debate, but it does seem that there were a number of Chinese who supported Google’s decision to leave. There was reportedly a trickle of people laying down flowers and lighting candles in front of Google China’s headquarters as if at a vigil, and it is not inconceivable that some wanted an influential Western company to make a principled stand and try to win a battle with the government that ordinary citizens have no hope of doing. After all, the government stood to lose face over Google’s departure; more importantly, the issue of freedom of expression that in China is a niche issue risked becoming the subject of a much wider debate.

These people are now disappointed and commenting cynically on the Internet. The people who care about freedom of expression showed that they existed beyond the imagination of Western commentators. But it is likely that they feel let down by Google’s decision and that this undermines further the standing of Western media as guardians of free speech in the eyes of Chinese.

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