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Giant Google dwarfed to ideological tool

10:58, January 19, 2010

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By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online

Unlike the purely commercial firms, Google has gone public with its high-profile corporate motto----Do Not Evil, laying bare its self-position in the market as a multinational which seems mature enough to play its monopoly in return for the political interests; or charitably said, to act as a social enterprise. That explains why in an unusually conspicuous move, it publicly announced that it may quit China, sparking a wave of reaction from both within and outside of China, and competing with Haiti massive quake for the media attention.

The reason: China's censorship and China-based cyber hacking as the Internet giant claimed. But with the mist of the initial confusion lifting, appears slowly the true landscape. And with time, one question popping up : Does Google's threat to exit really result from what the company and some of the Western media have claimed ? Or so to speak, does Google really struggle to defend its moral standards, namely, a free press and unfettered cyberspace ?

Or perhaps its high-pitched retreat is just a face-saving excuse to forego operations in the country with the world's largest online population, as otherwise Google would be condemned if it ignored the Chinese market with nearly 400 million Internet users and a still huge potential to be tapped.

To be frank, Google just cannot afford its failure in competing with its main domestic rival, Baidu.com. According to a report released by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), as of September 2009, Baidu.com's market share in China stood at 77.2 percent, far ahead of Google.cn's 12.7 percent. Additionally, the majority of Google's users in China choose its global website, Google.com, as the primary channel to access information. As a matter of fact, the closure threat of Google.cn has little, if any, effect on the Chinese users.

Back to China's Internet censorship, which is right now hyped up by Google's exit threat and echoed by some Western media as a handy weapon to attack China, but it actually is Google's elaborated excuse to flee the Chinese market, lest it should further frustrate its investors and shareholders. Just for one thing, Google entered China after censorship was instituted, not vice versa. If Google cannot put up with the "unfair restrictions" as it stated, why it has to wait until now to have a showdown ? And what is behind the scenes ?

On top of its defeat in garnering the market dominance in China as expected, it is nothing but the pressure strategy that counts, which is intended to impose pressure first upon the massive Chinese users and then relay it through the users to the Chinese government. And the timing in which the strategy is set is just in tune with the extent of reliability and credibility it has built for years among the Chinese users. At present, it feels ascertained to have the bargaining chip asking for a compromise from the Chinese government, as it is no longer a fledgling foreign firm edging its way in the world's largest market, but a ‘grow-up' so anxious to take side and flex muscle.

Which side should it take ? It will not take years for Google to make the decision, for the simple reason that when Google, as a representative of multinationals, has grown up to be somewhat irreplaceable, it will be inevitably tinted with some political and ideological shade. That explains why the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lately summoned CEOs of some elite information companies encouraging them to contribute more to the U.S., and purposely inspire them to side with the U.S., regardless of who you are and what is your corporate culture. For the sake of the U.S. political interests and the democracy-is-always-best mantra, Google stands out posing the so-called "Google threat" to a sovereign state like China and even goes so far as to challenge China's judicial sovereignty, core interest and social system.

To some extent, "Google threat" also sounds a warning bell to any other sovereign state that, from now on, the sizable U.S. multinationals would possibly wield their tremendous market clout to pose a threat to wherever they set up their business. And the multinationals could also involve in the tussles of international relations acting as a tool just right for the political pushing hand.

When Barack Obama campaigned for his presidency, he was once asked, "which side would you take if democracy and freedom conflicted with the national interests of the U.S.?" Obama adamantly replies that he would choose the U.S. interests.

Glancing back at the famous Google motto----DO Not Evil, people will find it just a cunning but hypocritical promise, in that "Do Not Evil" by no means indicates you are doing all right, and what's more, "good" or "evil" depends on whose shoes you are putting yourself in.

But after all, business is business. Google is not Avatar; by taming a big bird and borrowing the wing, it will soar in the sky. Google needs to be down to earth and face up to the reality, in which Google can tame nobody, but to fit itself for the situation if it wants to draw upon others' advantages to give a boost to its own strength.

Otherwise, and if Google insists on politicizing the whole thing, it would be hoisted with its own petard.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Gavin Jon MowatGavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.