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March 25, 2010

Was It Corporate Ethics Or Politics?

By Doc McCoy

Given the short attention span of Americans, the issue will fizzle out and die after a bit. Life will continue in China as it did prior to Google's departure. Ultimately, it is a lot of fuss about nothing, unless of course one is trying to score political points in America.

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Google has found many supporters in America with its decision to move its search engine from mainland China to Hong Kong. More often than not, it is being hailed as a savvy, corporate hero for having the gonads to stand up to Beijing in a row over Internet censorship.Taking all the commentaries together, the general consensus seems to be that perhaps Google has wedged open the door for democratic reform in China.

With great acumen, Google has refrained from saying much of anything throughout the entire debacle. No one at Google is making any comments of substance. It says it does not wish to politicize the issues or points of contention. Beijing is saying the same thing, in as few words as possible. Google of course, wishes to continue doing business in China, though on a more limited basis than in the past, thus a good reason for its diplomacy.

It is not surprising that this fiasco has given significant numbers of Americans numerous opportunities to ratchet up their anti-China rhetoric. The majority of Americans believe strongly that the entire Chinese government is abominable at the very least. They want to see China adopt American freedoms. Many are now also bringing into the argument the trade imbalances, the undervalued Yuan and other economic factors, and blaming China for the economic woes America is now facing. China becomes a scape goat.

Whether Google has acted out of conscience solely about the censorship issue, or for political favor in America is the question. The entire fiasco began after China took a firm stand when Obama visited China in November 2009. Many in America believed that Beijing was out of line for standing up to Washington and saying "no" very firmly. Beijing, after years of kowtowing to Washington finally stood up. That of course is totally unacceptable to Americans.

Google, in explaining its seemingly sudden epiphany about censorship in China, blamed Chinese hackers for trying to hack into its servers and some dissidents e-mail accounts. What Google does not disclose is that there are continual hacking attempts from around the world on their servers and people's e-mail accounts. Could it be that Google, after four years of providing censored Internet search results in compliance with Chinese law with few complaints, felt a surge of American patriotism in light of China snubbing Washington?

With some, there is speculation that Washington may have been complicit in Google's decision. Conspiracy theories are interesting, but this one would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to prove, so it must be completely ignored as it involves only speculation that could be harmful to American interests.

Google of course is content to stand on its new position as being viewed as a responsible corporate entity in regards to censorship and free speech, and thus a strong proponent of human rights. It has received strong kudos from the White House and Congress, which certainly cannot harm Google in the future when it is scrutinized on any number of different issues such as acquisitions which might appear to create a monopoly, or on copyright issues.

Google regularly censors search engine results in numerous countries around the world including in Europe, Australia and Thailand. From a parochial standpoint, it would seem that if Google is truly opposed to censorship, it would cease all censorship throughout the world. Many countries also censor access to web sites on their own so that if Google does not censor an entry, a questionable website may be blocked anyway.

Google may try to rationalize that it censors in other countries only to conform with a limited number of laws concerning what the public should and should not see. That argument would take the issue of censorship from being a "black and white" issue to one that is clouded with a lot of gray. In other words, some censorship is OK, but only if Google believes that it is politically expeditious for Google.

What the old and now new fans of Google are missing is the fact that censorship in China is not really a big issue for the majority of Chinese people. Those with even minimal English proficiency could previously access Google.com where search results were not censored. Using a free VIN or proxy server, blocked web sites could be accessed. A minor bit of inconvenience, but nothing major. Anyone could do it if they wanted to. The Great Firewall of China is not infallible.

The largest block of Internet users in China are not interested in politics. They are a hedonistic group, which is evidenced by the fact that the most popular websites in China are entertainment based. China has its own version of YouTube. It has its own version of FaceBook and MySpace. A big concern in China is Internet addiction. Hence, censorship really is not a big issue.

Additionally, the majority of the Chinese are not remotely interested in the Western perspective concerning Taiwan, Tibet or Tienanmen Square. The first two are great nationalistic pride issues. The latter is history, much like Vietnam is to the young people in America. Those younger than 40 are not really interested in that history. Hence, they are non-issues for the majority of the Chinese.

Google took a stand against Beijing. Google packed up most of its toys and moved off the mainland. However, they left enough toys in Beijing in the hopes that they can still make money despite their opposition to censorship, and hence alleged human rights violations. America cheers and hopes that somehow Google's actions may force China to open the door to Western values and principles.

Ultimately, a convincing argument can be made that Google is pandering to the right wing of America in particular, and the deep anti-China sentiment that is prevalent in America today. It is costing Google a bit today, with lower stock prices, but that shall pass in a relatively short period of time. It gained some political good will in the process, which is difficult in today's anti-corporate climate.

GoDaddy.com was quick to pick up on the potential benefits of being anti-China by announcing that it will stop registering domain names in China. A good business move for sure; free favorable publicity on a hot topic. How much anti-China business it will generate for GoDaddy now is pure speculation. There other cheaper alternatives to GoDaddy.com which means that the amount of business it has been receiving directly from China is probably minimal at best. Most Chinese buy and host their domain names directly in China, bypassing GoDaddy completely.

The anti-China sentiment in America is sure to grow over the next few days, if not even weeks and months. Google has only made it a hot topic by moving off the mainland. GoDaddy has jumped on the band wagon. A few people in China will miss Google if they are completely blocked. Others will simply find alternatives to Google and continue surfing the Internet. Ultimately, not much has changed for Google users.

Given the short attention span of Americans, the issue will fizzle out and die after a bit. Life will continue in China as it did prior to Google's departure. Ultimately, it is a lot of fuss about nothing, unless of course one is trying to score political points in America. Yet, odds are good those political points will soon be forgotten by the American public.



Submitters Bio:

Doc is semi-retired, currently living, working and investing in China. Background in medicine (trauma), business and education. Neither a progressive or a conservative; more of a centrist/libertarian who is a strong proponent of personal responsibility.

I am not interested in saving the world, nor am I my brother's keeper. I don't support any causes other than euthanasia.

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