The spat between Google and the Chinese government has been rumbling along for weeks, but just now it’s been elevated to “fist fight” status: The inevitable strongly-worded Chinese warning about “consequences” has arrived.
The warning came today from the Minister of Industry and IT, Li Yizhong, who was speaking to reporters at the annual National People’s Congress meeting. Li was, of course, diplomatic about the matter and noted that the government does actually support Google in its efforts to “expand its business and market share in China.”
But then the gloves came off: “If [Google] violates Chinese laws it would be unfriendly and irresponsible and [it] will definitely be responsible for the consequences.” This is the most direct threat yet toward the global search engine giant, and highlights that the Chinese government is not going to budge one millimeter from its official legal position. If Google, for whatever reason, decides to stop censoring its search results which it currently does to comply with the strict Dark Ages-style active censorship laws the Chinese demand, then China will simply snip off access to Google, and really won’t care about the matter.
Basically, this seems to be the start of the Chinese lock-down. It comes after months of posturing which started with Google’s (and others) accusations of serious hacking attempts from China, possibly with state complicity, and which has recently got confusing over whether or not Google and China are in direct dialog. Google may well have threatened to withdraw from China, after first uncensoring its search engine…but as of yet it appears to have made no active moves to enact the threats. And maybe that’s the point–it’s been being inscrutable, and waiting for exactly this new Chinese posturing.
And this almost makes it seem like Google’s behaving with the same diplomatic grace and guile of a real nation. Which is amusing, given the slightly fudged and hands-off handling the actual U.S. government is exhibiting in its dealings with this case–demonstrated neatly by a new official State Department report that condemns China’s “numerous and serious” rights abuses, but which is merely a paper threat. Does Google have more direct impact on human rights and freedoms in China than the Obama Administration? That’s a scary thought. We’ll all have to see what the next plays are in the Google-China battle to find out.