BEIJING, March 23, 2010 -- The Chinese government today blasted Google's decision to close its mainland search site over censorship issues and are plastering their response all over the media. "Google has violated its written promise and is totally wrong by stopping to censor its Chinese language search results and blaming China for alleged hacker attacks, " the Xinhua news agency quoted an official in charge of China's Internet bureau as saying.
Google made the announcement that it was rerouting Google.cn through Hong Kong, which is not censored, at 3 a.m. local time here and the Chinese government quickly responded. While Web users on the mainland are able to get to the Google.com.hk site, they still cannot access search results and Web pages for topics deemed sensitive by the government censors.
The Great Firewall, the Chinese government censors, stepped in within hours of Google's pullout to impose censorship on search results routed through the Google Hong Kong site. How long this will last or how complete the censorship will be is still an open question.
The Chinese official said, "We're uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts."
It also remains to be seen what will happen to Google China's 700 employees. As these employees left the Beijing headquarters over the last few days, they have refused to talk to reporters.
"Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search [in China] has been hard," wrote David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, on the company's blog.
The pullout has business implications, too, as companies question whether it is worth it to attempt negotiating with the Chinese government to do business here. There are nearly 400 million Internet users in China and that number grows by the day. Google has always ranked a distant second in search to Baidu, but Google no doubt understands that China remains a vitally important market.
Dan Brody, a former Google China employee and current CEO of Koolanoo Group, told ABC News that it's unfortunate Google.cn is gone. "We thought it was a darn shame to see Google leave because they were the last man standing. They were the last large foreign Internet company here in China still operating. All the others had sort of failed and gone home."
Damaging China's Image
At a regularly scheduled foreign ministry press briefing today, Chinese F.M. Spokesman Qin Gang said that Google's decision will not affect U.S.-China relations "unless someone politicizes the issue." He argued that this is a single business decision that will not damage the image of China.
Not everyone agrees with that assessment. Michael Anti is a prominent Chinese blogger.
He told ABC News, "When more people know the existence of censorship, more and more people will stand up." Anti argues that the post-1990 generation believes they should have freedom of information and he sums it up with one comment he read online: "Google please get away as far as you can, but don't forget to take me."
As for the average Chinese Internet user, reaction seems to be mixed. Most Chinese use Baidu more than Google and many toe the mainstream Chinese media line.
And even if they are upset at Google leaving, it's not necessarily a place where people feel comfortable expressing such grievances.
Yesterday, when ABC News was taping in an Internet cafe, a young gentlemen, who refused to be identified or go on-camera, passed us a note that said, "We support Google always."