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Thursday, January 14, 2010

China Unlikely To Budge Despite Google's Threat

A Chinese official has affirmed the nation's censorship goals despite Google's threat to pull out of the country. Minister Wang Chen wrote on an official Chinese web site that controlling information ensures national security. Dropping 30 percent of China's search market could hurt Google, but it might return in a different business form.

Two days after Google threatened to stop doing business in China, the nation's leadership is not budging. A senior Chinese government official left little reason to believe Google can find a compromise with the communist country.

Wang Chen, the minister of the State Council Information Office, did not address the Google incident directly. Rather, his statement was posted on an official government web site and in state-controlled media.

"China's Internet is entering an important stage of development, confronting both rare opportunities and severe challenges. The Internet is bringing massive changes to social life, as well as making life much more convenient for many, but at the same time problems with Internetsecurity are increasingly stark," said Chen, noting a severe threat to the physical and mental health of minors from Internet pornography.

China: Internet Should Nurture

As Chen sees it, ensuring the secure operation of the Internet and its information flow ensures national security and the fundamental interests of the people.

In some sense, he said, the greater the reach and influence of Internet media, the greater are the demands for security and reliability, and the greater the responsibilities officials shoulder for Internet security. He said the Internet must fully grasp the major significance of ensuring security and constantly enhance its sense of responsibility, urgency and mission.

"We must make truly improving our capacity to guide opinion on the Internet a major measure for protecting Internet security. Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts. ... Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security," Chen said.

Chen added that Internet media need to make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, he added, the Internet allows spreading rumors, issuing false information, and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

China Can't Capitulate

Chen's words may the best picture of China's motives for censoring the Internet. The ability to weed out dissidents is very important to China -- and it doesn't want a revolution, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. He doesn't see much wiggle room for Google in its face off with China, despite support from activist groups for human rights and privacy.

"China has to a large extent subordinated consumer rights to government rights, and if Google wants to stay there they'll have to live under that. Most other companies have bowed down to it," Enderle said. "China is not in a position to capitulate. If they did it for Google, they'd have to do it for everybody."

China has more than 360 million web users and Google owns about 30 percent of the search market. Leaving China may not be the most profitable move for Google, but it may be the most palatable for the company. And Google may be able to return in different business clothes.

"If Google leaves, they lose one of the largest economies of the world and going back in is very difficult," Enderle said. "But they could find a way. They would have to partner with another company to separate their brand from the business if they wanted to go back."

By Jennifer LeClaire

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