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Google's entrance to the Chinese market

by Brownie Sun Feb 26th, 2006 at 05:11:05 PM EST

Google finally obtained a license for its China-based website on Feb. 22, Xinhua news agency reported. The US economy and the Chinese public will benefit from this. The problem of course is that to enter the Chinese market Google has had to block access to info the Chinese government considers a threat such as references to the Tiananmen Square massacre and famous dissidents. Thus, Google's move might turn out to be a factor in arresting the development of Chinese knowledge-seekers and fortifying the authoritarianism of the Chinese government.

Google acknowledged that its self-censorship contradicts its mission to provide free access to as much info as possible. But the company defended its position by saying it's better to make a flawed contribution than no contribution at all.

The Chinese government defended its ban with more confidence (and in the most predictable manner).  "What we have done in regulating the Internet is consistent with international practice," said Liu Zhengrong, deputy director general of Internet Affairs Bureau under the State Council Information Office, for China Daily. Here's more from him on the ban:

China Daily, Feb. 17.

Generally speaking, opinion on China's public affairs is actively discussed on the Internet in China, including sharply worded political content. As for the topics and contents that are prohibited to be spread, Chinese laws such as the Resolution of the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Internet Safety and Regulations on Online Information Service Management contain specific provisions. In recent years, the Internet-related confederations have played an active role in helping website administrators and users understand these laws.

This explanation is, yes, so evasive it does little to persuade one that the Chinese government has allowed even highly controversial issues to be openly discussed. But Google is also to blame, some critics have pointed out. By agreeing to withhold information about key issues in Chinese history considered to be taboo, the firm is actually collaborating with the Chinese government and helping it perpetuate some of its authoritarian practices.

True, but right now Google needs to enter China's rapidly expanding online market of some 111 million users, the second largest internet market in the world. One important reason is that by doing so, it will make an important contribution to American economy.

The need for such a contribution can also be seen when one takes into consideration Chinese President Hu Jintao's announcement from Feb. 22 that:

China should speed up changes in the way it expands the economy to ensure sustainable development and competitiveness on a global scale.
To speed up this process would enable China to survive increasingly fierce global competition, and therefore to secure its own interests.

Also, by entering the Chinese market Google will help the two countries communicate even more, one thing they need in order to be healthy competitors.

But Google and the American economy are not the only ones that will benefit from Google's move. Chinese citizens will have access to a huge body of information except for 20 broad content categories, including pornography and other banned political material.

The poor, under-middle-class, and middle-class citizens of China actually don't need this information because it's irrelevant to their lives and they wouldn't be able to use it to their benefit or to put it in context since they lack critical thinking and detailed historical knowledge. This tendency actually applies to mass populations in general. And these citizens of Chinese society are also unlikely to go online, according to a 2005 report which surveyed internet usage and impact in five Chinese cities.

Net using in China increases with the amount of education one gets and the amount of money they make, the report concludes. About 90 percent of the interviewees with a bachelor's or a higher degree go online, while only less than 15 percent of the interviewees with a middle-school education or less do so, the report says. Also, according to this report, the largest number of users is among university or college professors (87.5 percent), entrepreneurs in foreign or private companies (81 percent), and high-school, primary-school and middle-school teachers (81.5 percent).

And these net users are actually the ones that need access to the banned political info. Compared to those who don't use internet and don't need the banned information, net-users make up a smaller percentage. But they are the most economically, politically, socially, and culturally progressive elements within Chinese society, so they need to have access to this info.

It was good for Google to strike the deal with China because the U.S. will benefit at a time when it needs to. But it might be the case that by denying access to key bits of political information, Google is guilty of complicity in restricting the prospects of the most promising elements of Chinese society. Thus, it might also be strengthening the Chinese government's authoritarian regime. But then, the Chinese government has proven that a market economy is possible even without a democratic government. Only time will show how sustainable Chinese development has been.


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