How has China reacted to Google's possible withdrawal?

Human rights defenders in the west endorse Google's decision to end China censorship, but what is th

It looks as if Google could end its services in China. The internet giant launched its Chinese-language services in 2006, and has been dogged by controversy over its agreement to censor search results in accordance with Beijing's wishes. But now, in what is being seen as a direct challenge to the Chinese government, Google says it will stop censoring search results.

This is in response to a "sophisticated and targeted" attempt to hack into the email accounts of human rights activists, originating from China. The Chinese government was not mentioned, but it is well known that hackers are sanctioned by the government to probe important organisations.

It is unlikely that the Chinese government will allow the company to continue operations once the filters are removed.

Google's original acceptance of censorship attracted harsh criticism. Critics argued that it went against the company's motto, "Don't be evil", although the firm maintained that it would be more damaging to civil liberties were it to pull out completely.

International human rights groups -- many of which were critical of Google's initial decision to accept Chinese government regulation -- have jumped to endorse the decision. Human Rights Watch said the move was important for human rights online:

A transnational attack on privacy is chilling, and Google's response sets a great example. At the same time, this incident underscores the need for governments and companies to develop policies that safeguard rights.

But what has the reaction been within China? The combination of the language barrier and the very state censorship that has triggered this dispute makes it difficult to tell with any certainty. #GoogleCN is a trending topic on Twitter, but makes for frustrating browsing if you don't read Chinese.

The initial signs, however, are that the Chinese public does not want the search giant to leave. The Wall Street Journal asked users of both its English- and Chinese-language sites to vote on the question: "Should Google leave China?" At last glance, 80 per cent of voters on the English site said Yes. By contrast, 72 per cent on the Chinese site said No. Some readers on the site commented that it would be a "tragedy" if Google left. This split in opinion could demonstrate that, while it is easy for us in the west to pontificate on issues such as the endorsement of censorship by a major company, for those in China, Google (which only partly censored material) was making possible a step towards freedom of speech.

There have been reports that some supporters are camped outside the office in Wudaokou, voicing their support for internet freedom. Shanghaiist features a photo of people laying flowers outside Google's offices; however, 700 jobs will be lost if the company does close its Chinese operation. The website also says that a Chinese translation of the Google statement was "harmonised" very quickly.

The blogger Xiang Ligang (translated here) draws attention to Google's business interests, saying:

I think Google's announcement is basically a kind of psychological warfare and is unlikely to be implemented, otherwise the losing side is Google and the netizen. However, the majority of Chinese internet users will forget this incident in no more than three months and only few people will remember it occasionally, like ripples on a pool of water.

The same website translates some comments from Chinese web users expressing support for Google:

"2 possible outcomes: more freedom or no freedom"

"Baidu [Chinese-run search engine] is a puppet downloading, Google finally stands up"

"I definitely support Google, definitely do not bow to the Celestial Kingdom [Chinese government]."

So, the Chinese reception of the news appears to be bitter-sweet. Beijing recognises the statement being made, but also the possibility that the state censorship machine has the capacity to ensure that, in a few months, Google will be just a distant memory.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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