Google-China Row Thickens over Complaint Letter

More than half the alleged signatories say they didn't sign the letter.

BEIJING, March 18, 2010 -- Questions are being raised about a letter of complaint, purportedly from 27 of Google's partners in China, over the seach engine's threat to pull out of the country.

In the letter, the company's Chinese advertising partners warned that uncertainty about Google's continued presence in China is affecting their business operations and straining relations with their customers and investors. Google has said it may shut down operations here because of the Chinese government's censorship.

"We see all kinds of news related to Google coming out but cannot predict the future," the letter stated. "We see our business volume declining dramatically, but feel powerless to stop it. And we see our employees leaving one after another, without being able to persuade them to stay."

ABC News called 20 of the 27 alleged signatories of the letter. Of these, representatives for 16 companies said that they didn't sign the letter. Reps for two of the firms said that they thought the letter was sensationalized and that their business was still going on as usual.

Gao Min, sales manager of Zoom Interactive (Beijing) Co., told ABC, "My company [first in the list in the article] didn't write or sign the letter. I think the issue has become sensationalized."

"My company had no part in this letter," a manager of Yangzhou Dingjie Technology Co., told ABC News. "And we have business with lots of companies, not just Google, so for us it's business as usual."

Reps for two companies that supposedly signed the letter refused to comment and two firms could not be reached on the phone.

The Associated Press reported that the letter was not written by all 27 companies but was sent by one company that added the names of the others, said a manager at one of those listed, Universal Internet Media in the eastern city of Suzhou. He would give only his surname, Wu, and declined to say which company wrote the letter.

The letter was originally posted on the China Central Television (CCTV) Web site but was removed some time last night. An employee in CCTV's editorial office told ABC News that they could not say whether the letter was ever even on their Web site but conceded, "maybe someone posted it in the forum section."

According to the Wall Street Journal, one of the ad companies listed on the letter has confirmed its authenticity on the condition of anonymity. The ad agency told the newspaper it reflected the concerns of Google's advertising partners though not all of them had a part in drawing it up.

The Google-China Dispute

The dispute between Google and China began January 12 when Google announced it could "no longer in good conscience continue to filter or censor" its search engine in China. It now appears increasingly likely that the Internet giant will have to shutter its Chinese-language search engine, a prospect which has highlighted the difficulties foreign companies face when operating in China.

On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang downplayed the significance of such a step by Google.

"I think this would just be the individual act of one company, and will not affect China's investment environment," Qin told a regular news briefing. "It will not change the fact that most foreign companies, U.S. ones included, have a good business in China and generate large profits."

China's top Internet regulator has said the company must obey its laws or "pay the consequences."

Beijing tries to block access to material deemed subversive or pornographic, including Web sites abroad run by human rights and pro-democracy activists.

Chinese officials say it's up to Google whether it leaves or not.

China has the world's most populous Internet market, with 384 million people online. Google has about 35 percent of the Chinese search market.

The Associated Press Contributed to this report.