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Google Just Can't Quit China

Back in January, Google took a stand. Fed up with the Chinese government's insistence on filtering search results, the company started automatically redirecting users in mainland China to its Hong Kong site, which remains as unfiltered as pond water.

This week, though, China fought back, threatening (according to Google) to pull Google's license to operate in the country if the Hong Kong hijack continued. Now Google has taken a very impressive stand on this whole thing up to this point...however, pragmatism is now creeping in.

Google is going to stop redirecting China's half a billion (a number that's rapidly growing) Internet users to Hong Kong and instead link them to a filtered site in mainland China that offers them the alternative of searching through Hong Kong.

Google doesn't seem just super thrilled about the move, but company officials recognize that half a billion users is a number too large to ignore. They say that they're trying to strike a balance here and keep a Google presence in China without completely submitting to the repressive whims of the Chinese government.

Here at RCPU we hope that Google's plan works. For all of its mistakes and occasional privacy breaches, Google has taken a pretty righteous stand on the whole China situation. We're impressed that the company isn't going to just completely back down in the face of threats from China's Communist government.

Furthermore, we're thinking that Google might be laying out a blueprint here for how to deal with China. Despite China's market reforms, the government there has essentially an absolute lockdown on everything. (That's what folks from China -- Chinese people who live there -- have told your editor, anyway.) It's already impossible to ignore China as a market, and it's going to become an even more critical territory as the number of Chinese on the Internet grows toward a billion and beyond.

But that doesn't mean that international firms should just accept the repression of the Chinese government. Many will, of course—probably most. But Google's hybrid approach seems like a reasonable way to handle the situation. Whether or not the Chinese government sees it as reasonable, though, remains to be seen.

How much business do you do in China? What challenges have you experienced there? Send your stories to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on June 30, 2010