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Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

China condemns decision by Google to lift censorship

A computer screen in a Beijing internet cafe shows the new Chinese-language Google search home page, 23 March
Chinese users are being redirected to the google.com.hk site

China has said Google's move to stop censoring search results is "totally wrong" and accused it of breaking a promise made when it launched in China.

The US giant is redirecting users in mainland China to its unrestricted Hong Kong site, although Chinese firewalls mean results still come back censored.

Beijing said the decision should not affect ties with Washington.

Google threatened to leave the Chinese market completely this year after cyber attacks were traced back to China.

Google's move effectively to shut its mainland Chinese search service, google.cn, is a major blow to China's international image, the BBC's Damian Grammaticas reports from Beijing.


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It means one of the world's most prominent corporations is saying it is no longer willing to co-operate in China's censorship of the internet, our correspondent says.

But business analysts say the company is taking a long-term gamble as the Chinese internet search market is growing by 40% a year.

China recently moved to further limit free speech on the web, and Google's own websites and the e-mail accounts of human rights activists have come under cyber attack.

The White House said it was "disappointed" that Google and China had not been able to resolve their differences.

'Politicisation'

A BBC search of google.cn on Tuesday using the word "Tiananmen" brought up results but the words "Dalai Lama" returned messages like "problem loading page" and "the connection was reset".

GOOGLE IN CHINA
2000: A Chinese-language interface is developed for the google.com website
2006: Launch of China-based google.cn search page with censored results
Mar-Jun 2009: China blocks access to Google's YouTube site; access to other Google online services is denied to users
Jan 2010: Jan 2010 Google announces it is no longer willing to censor searches in China and may pull out of the country
Feb 2010: Hacking attacks on Google are traced to mainland China
March 2010: Google says it will re-route searches to its Hong Kong-based site

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters that Google's move was an isolated act by a commercial company and should not affect China-US ties "unless politicised" by others.

The government would handle the Google case "according to the law", he added.

Earlier an official in the Chinese government office which oversees the internet said: "Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks.

"This is totally wrong. We're uncompromisingly opposed to the politicisation of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts," the unnamed official was quoted as saying by Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Chen Yafei, a Chinese information technology specialist, told Reuters that Google should have accepted Chinese regulation if it wanted to operate in the country.

"Any company entering China should abide by Chinese laws," he said. "Chinese internet users will have no regrets if Google withdraws."

Google's Peter Barron on decision

Edward Yu, chief executive of Analysys International, a Beijing-based research firm specialising in technology issues, said he did not believe Google's rerouting was sustainable.

"The thing that makes the government unhappy is this kind of gesture," he said. "They may set up barriers against Google."

Young Chinese professionals working in Beijing's main IT hub, Zhongguancun, expressed a mixture of regret, anger and surprise on Tuesday at Google's decision.

"I think it was inevitable though," Chen Wen, 28, told Reuters. "The government was never going to compromise on filtering. China needs this company. It's a great loss for the country."

You Chuanbo, 25, predicted the government would "just end up blocking access to all of Google".

Valued market

In Beijing, some passers-by laid flowers outside Google's offices to thank the company for standing up for its principles.

Graphic showing how Google search queries are redirected via Hong Kong
1) Users accessing the Chinese site Google.cn are redirected to the Hong Kong site Google.com.hk

2) The searches are carried out on the servers in Hong Kong and are sent back to the users in mainland China

3) On the way, the results are filtered by the Chinese government

International human rights groups praised Google's move , with the New York-based Human Rights in China saying Google had put the ball in Beijing's court - China promised to respect freedoms in Hong Kong when it regained the territory in 1997.

Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the CPJ hoped it would "ramp up pressure on the Chinese government to allow its citizens to access the news and information they need".

A Paris-based rights group, Reporters Without Borders, called Google's decision a bold move which other internet companies should follow. Foreign internet companies have to comply with China's stringent censorship rules before being allowed to operate in the country.

Announcing the decision, Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, said that providing uncensored searches through the Hong Kong-based google.com.hk website was "entirely legal" and would "meaningfully increase access to information for people in China".

The company said it would maintain a research and development and sales presence in China, where about 700 of its 20,000 employees are based.

Google spokeswoman Marsha Wang told AFP news agency she had no information about job losses or a possible transfer of staff to Hong Kong offices, saying only that "adjustments" could be made "according to business demand".

Google is not the biggest search provider in China and its mainland Chinese operation accounts for just a fraction of the firm's total sales.

However, the US giant risks losing market share, revenue and staff to rivals which include market leader Baidu, up-and-comer Tencent and US heavyweight Microsoft, Reuters notes in a commentary.

Tom Online Inc, an internet company owned by Hong Kong's richest man, the billionaire Li Ka-shing, has stopped using Google's search engine in protest, it said, against Google's lack of compliance with Chinese regulations.


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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Financial TimesBeijing's Google censorship appears confused - 1 hr ago
Reuters UK RPT-WRAPUP 1-Google to phase out China search partnerships - 2 hrs ago
New StatesmanChinese paper accuses Google of collusion with US intelligence - 3 hrs ago
MIS Asia Google services survive in China so far, but users worry - 5 hrs ago
Sydney Morning Herald US tells China to mull 'implications' of Google move - 9 hrs ago
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