Google in China: Everybody Wang Chen Tonight

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 1/14/2010 04:18:00 PM

You're probably wondering why you're staring at yet another 80s video at what's purportedly the International Political Economy Zone, not Stuck in the 80s (a superb blog, BTW). Well, let me explain. There was this new wave band named Wang Chung from Britain that made it big in that decade. Their biggest hit was "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" which went to #2 on the US charts. In that song, there is a line which goes "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight." As you'll read below, the cyber-gestapo that the Politburo has sicced on Google is none other than, er, Wang Chen of the State Council Information Office. So it's not Wang Chung, but it's close enough for me.

The gist of Wang Chen's message is that China will not change its censorship practices--"self-discipline," they call it--in response to Google's antics. It's China's way or the highway. If you don't like it, then get the hell out of Dodge--I mean, Dalian. From the FT:
China’s government demands self-censorship – which it calls “self-discipline” – from internet companies. Although Mr Wang did not mention Google by name, his remarks were being seen as Beijing’s first response to the US internet company’s threat to exit the country...

Mr Wang also addressed concerns over cyberattacks but depicted China as a “victim” rather than a perpetrator as alleged by Google. “China is a victim of hackers and resolutely opposes hacking,” he said. “To maintain internet security, we need international co-operation and close co-ordination...”

Since late 2008, Beijing has been cracking down on online content in a campaign it says is aimed at erasing pornographic “and other harmful” content. Over this period, thousands of websites and blogs, including many featuring criticism of the government rather than pornographic material, were closed and thousands arrested. Several Chinese social media sites were shut and foreign ones such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter blocked.

“The importance different countries attach to internet security is different,” Mr Wang said. “We must …, from the angle of national security, information security and cultural security, actively respond to the challenges in internet security and … find a path of internet development with Chinese characteristics.”
Google probably expected this response anyhow. I believe it's three main options now are as follows:
  • Close down its China operations as per the melodramatic statement;
  • Maintain a reduced presence that can still be re-expanded in the future (don't burn your bridges--this is most likely to happen IMHO);
  • Ask Uncle Sam to mediate by threatening China with a trade case over censorship (see the previous post on this possibility)
I'm of the opinion that diplomatic avenues will be tried before Google makes its decision on continuing operations. Whatever it chooses, you can bet that everybody will Wang Chen tonight.

1/15 UPDATE: See this interesting Danwei commentary extrapolating trends in online advertising in China that suggests prospects there aren't as rosy as some make them compared to those in the rest of the world.

1/16 UPDATE: In case you missed it, the White House says that it supports Google's actions to remove censorship filters. So much for "self-discipline"?
"The recent cyber intrusion that Google attributes to China is troubling and the U.S. government is looking into it," said White House spokesman Nick Shapiro. The administration is strongly opposed to the "illicit targeting of private email accounts for political reasons," he added. "We applaud Google's decision to discontinue censorship of search results on"