WASHINGTON—U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has called on China to “seriously consider” the meaning of Google’s decision to partially withdraw from China over Internet curbs, as Beijing warned Washington against “politicizing” the issue and Chinese netizens welcomed the move.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Washington didn’t play a role in Google’s decision but said Beijing “should seriously consider the implications when one of the world’s most recognizable institutions has decided that it’s too difficult to do business in China.”
Google has said it will redirect most China-based search functions to Hong Kong, where Chinese censorship rules don't apply.
Google said two months ago that it would quit the mainland market if it were required to continue to submit to censorship following cyberattacks originating in China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said his government would handle the Google case “according to the law” and any repercussions wouldn’t damage Sino-U.S. ties, already strained over a currency dispute and other issues.
“I don’t see it influencing Sino-U.S. relations unless some people want to politicize it,” Qin said.
China’s State Council Information Office issued a tougher statement, saying:
“Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks ....”
“This is totally wrong. We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.”
An employee who answered the phone at Beijing’s State Council Information Office declined to comment.
“You can send a requesting letter over in order to arrange an interview. I have not yet heard this news ... I saw Google’s story on the Internet before, but our division is not dealing with this particular matter.”
Chinese Internet users noticed small differences after Google effectively closed its China-hosted google.cn search engine in the early hours of this morning.
They were automatically redirected to the Chinese-language service based in Hong Kong, whose welcome page read, “Welcome to Google Search in China’s new home.”
The site offers search results in the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China, as well as the traditional characters favored in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.
A large gathering of some of Google’s 600 staff was held in a first-floor cafeteria in Beijing.
A Google spokeswoman, Jessica Powell, said the meeting was called to update staff about the situation, but she declined to give details.
Many Google services not hosted in China remained as accessible as before, including its map service and a free, popular, advertising-supported music portal.
Many Chinese netizens meanwhile hailed the move.
Ai Weiwei, a well-known and frequently outspoken artist, wrote:
“The Chinese government claims that Google cannot represent foreign ventures in China, but Google can represent all souls in the world who love justice and freedom.”
Another influential blogger, Lian Yue, said, “The government of the People’s Republic of China has never abided by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. It should leave China now.”
Shanghai-based cyber commentator Hong Bo added: “Filtering content of online search is tantamount to shutting down Google’s business in China.”
Isaac Mao, a former researcher at Harvard University Law School’s Berkman Center for Society & Internet, also welcomed Google’s move.
“Google finally made a decisive choice, verifying its words in January on its principle of business. Judging from either a commercial or a political perspective, we can say Google made a smart move that is responsible for its customers in China,” Mao wrote.
“This is because that most Google users in China wish the search engine doesn’t carry out self-censorship. Now Google has to make such a decision. This is a result of its hopeless talks with the Chinese government.”
“China has commercial laws and regulations regarding foreign business entering its market. Why does it need Google to make a ‘written promise?’ If every foreign company must present a ‘written promise’ when entering China, it only means that the commercial environment is very bad … It also implies that all foreign businesses are subject to some extra conditions. This is unacceptable.”
Original report by Xin Yu from Hong Kong. Translated from the Mandarin by Ping Chen. Additional reporting by news agencies. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.