Has Google left China? No. Google has left mainland China and moved its search engine operations to Hong Kong. What exactly will Google do? We will have to wait and see.
China’s government, which does not wish to see Sino-American relations continue down their present path, has emphasized that Google’s departure is purely a commercial matter, and that it should not be politicized. At the same time, however, many state media have gone on a political crusade, criticizing Google and defending Internet controls in China.
Information search technology is the pillar of Internet technology, upsetting the traditional relationship between the broadcaster and the receiver and creating a world in which users themselves are free to search, organize and derive information.
Google is cutting edge, one of the world’s most non-conformist companies. Google is not just a search engine but a new form of media, setting new standards. What Google wished to accomplish in Beijing was the creation of a media free of censorship, allowing mainland Chinese to access information freely.
Not long ago, the Washington Post ran a story by correspondent John Pomfret called, “In China, Google users worry they may lose an engine of progress.” One source interviewed for the story, an academic, said: “If Google is blocked, we will see nothing but darkness.”
The Washington Post story set off a firestorm of speculation in the media. Would China descend into darkness without Google? In my view, this is a pseudo question. The question of whether China grows dark or not does not hinge on any one factor. Google’s exit from mainland China is a certainly a loss for the people of China. But there are thousands of journalists in China fighting every day for freedom. They will continue to work, inching ahead, regardless of whether or not topics like June Fourth or Liu Xiaobo can be discussed. This is why the flame of professional media in China burns on, and why we see sparks like investigative reporter Wang Keqin’s expose last week on faulty vaccines in Shanxi. Light and dark dance around each other every day in China.
Google is keeping the future and its long term goals in sight. It wishes to be a thoroughly free and uncontrolled media, something that cannot exist in today’s China. Given the facts as they are known at present, I still cannot entirely understand Google’s true reasons for quitting mainland China. But I feel quite strongly that Google’s decision to shift to Hong Kong and develop Google.com.hk is a stroke of good news amid the bad.
Google has not exited China. It has sought shelter in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and the policy of “one country, two systems.” The SAR government stated at the earliest possible moment that it would not censor content at the site and would respect information freedom.
In this special place, somewhat paradoxically called “the domestic outside” (国内境外), Google can continue to provide their services to Chinese — including search services that will be limited for mainland users by censorship actions within China, but which cannot be entirely controlled.
“One country, two systems” is not an expedient policy, but rather a long-term state policy arranged by Deng Xiaoping himself. The “one country, two systems” policy shows great political wisdom, leaping out of the life and death ideological struggle between socialism and capitalism and the rigid thought so pervasive in Chinese politics. In spirit it was not unlike Khrushchev’s 1959 doctrine of “peaceful coexistence, peaceful transition and peaceful competition,” which allowed for the coexistence, comparison, competition and integration of differing systems.
Looking back now, the richness and imaginative possibility of the policy surpasses the original intentions of its framer.
As China moves into the future, Hong Kong will have important contributions to make to the nation’s development, not just economically, but socially and politically as well. Hong Kong is an incubator for democracy, freedom of expression and civil society in China. Everyone on the mainland with an active interest in China’s future and progress of China is watching Hong Kong’s development closely.
Freedom of expression must be fiercely protected in Hong Kong, and we must not grow complacent. Some are concerned that freedoms here are suffering. But there is another important aspect to this issue — do local Hong Kong media make sufficient use of the freedom they have? Do they work tirelessly to raise standards of media professionalism, serving as a model for mainland journalists in the two crucial areas of “freedom and responsibility”? As Internet technologies progress with each passing day, has Hong Kong stayed on top of the trends, accelerating the development of new media in the territory?
Hong Kong’s future is closely tied to the future of mainland China. I feel regret at Google’s departure from mainland China, but I do not feel sadness or despair.
The goal Chinese media are fighting for on a daily basis is not the ultimate goal Google was angling for. Chinese media are fighting a constant struggle for the right to expose, for example, the full facts in the Shanxi vaccine scandal. They are fighting for the right to criticize Hubei governor Li Hongzhong. Their reports are constantly censored, “harmonized” (prevented from being posted online) or subjected to “404 errors” (their articles deleted across the Web). In extreme cases, media may be purged or suspended. But they do not turn back. They gain modest victories again and again. And many small victories can add up to tremendous progress.
Hong Kong’s Google is still China’s Google. Words like “June Fourth” and “Liu Xiaobo” are sensitive words that must be filtered out inside China’s firewall today. But I would ask, what will the situation be in three years? Or in five years, or ten years? I don’t believe that China’s Great Firewall will stand unshaken in ten years time.
And perhaps history will change must faster than we anticipate, and we will not have to wait 10 years for Google’s return to mainland China.