Saturday, January 16, 2010

Google and China

I'm sure you've heard it elsewhere first. The Chinese government hacked Google's email servers to dig up dirt on human-rights activists. So Google has retaliated by no longer censoring their searches, and announcing that if this requires them to leave China, well, then so be it. (A quick note that Google is the host of this blog.)
I can still remember when Google was first introducing itself to China. Many pundits were furious that they were making any concessions at all. Google's business department answered this by claiming that they were doing this all for the best, and to trust them on it.
I'm surprised by the Chinese response. While the government is predictably furious, the common people seem delighted by Google's move. Chinese citizens are shown laying flowers on Google's signboard. Maybe it's just sympathy for the hundreds of employees who will likely to lose their jobs, or maybe it's a deliberate siding with Google's position. Real news from China has been difficult to determine.
In any case, it looks bad for the Chinese government. The whole "censor stuff you don't like" thing looks stupider every day, the image of them abroad is mostly that of thieving and insufferable-ness, that working in China will mean having your technology stolen and endless regulation.
The thrust of the Chinese argument is that they're turning their backs on billions of dollars. Such is true in literal terms. China has 1.3 billion people, who have between them $8.8 trillion USD to throw around. But Google is arguing that it's not a fair market. Things were set up to give local competitors, like Baidu, every conceivable advantage, and Google every conceivable disadvantage. Google managed to get maybe 20% of the local market, and it was made very clear that it wouldn't get higher than that.
And yes, the Chinese Renmenbi has a value, but so does reputation, security, trust, and a thousand other intangibles that the Chinese government poked at. This event is not over. I predict much screaming by both sides in the near future.


ralleywolf said...

It's nice to see Google standing up to the Chinese government like that. The people of China are getting with the times, their government should do the same.

themadengineer said...

In traditional Chinese political thought, the current government enjoys "the mandate of heaven" until such time as the people get so enraged by their (inevitable) corruption and incompetence that they rebel. A successful rebellion represents a transfer of the mandate. A failed rebellion is a warning that you're running a train wreck, and to fix it immediately lest the next one prove successful.
That said, Chinese politics is far more adverse to anarchy than western ones. People are loathe to overthrow a government that's any less than a total shitstorm of stupid and evil. It would have to become worse than the warlord era China that some of the older Chinese people can still faintly remember.
Currently, the Chinese people may dislike the censorship and other irritations, but they're fond of the increasing prosperity and power. A rebellion now is unlikely.

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