Stance to limit Google is a risk by Beijing

Google’s decision may not cause major problems for China right away, experts said. But in the longer run, they said, China’s intransigent stance on filtering the flow of information within its borders has the potential to weaken its links to the global economy. It may also sully its image as an authoritarian country that is economically on the move, perhaps even more so than the sclerotic, democratic West.

“The Chinese are very serious about pushing their soft-power agenda. Google just put a big hole in that sales pitch, and I think they know that,” said Bill Bishop, a Beijing Internet entrepreneur and author of the technology blog Digicha.

China’s leaders appear fully aware of their dilemma. But at this stage in China’s history, and given the Communist Party’s determination to maintain absolute rule, they still put political control ahead of all other concerns.

“What does Google’s exit say? What it says publicly is what everyone deeply engaged in China knows privately,” said Kenneth G Lieberthal, a Brookings Institution scholar and former Clinton administration adviser on China.

The conclusion of Google’s four-year Internet experiment in China was anything but smooth. On Monday, it effectively shut down the search engine it hosted inside China, after declaring in January that it would stop cooperating with Chinese censors.

As Google began redirecting tens of millions of mainland Chinese users early Tuesday, Beijing time, to its Hong Kong-based Web site,, parts of the company’s remaining mainland operations quickly came under pressure from Google’s Chinese partners and from the government itself.

One Western official in China said that the leadership is now treating the Internet as a “core interest,” an issue of sovereignty on which Beijing will brook no intervention. The most commonly cited core interests are Taiwan and Tibet, the third-rail issues in China’s international diplomacy.

In fact, even among those who argue that China will do just fine without Google, China’s battle with the Internet giant is seen as a proxy for its broader confrontation with the West over rights, trade, climate change, and declining American hegemony.

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