I’ve been trying to get my mind around Monday’s announcement from Google that it would shift its servers from mainland China and to Hong Kong - a move which it viewed as legal but would let them run a non-censored Google.cn site.
That site, as we all know by now, would redirect users to Google.com.hk.
At the risk of tossing out a simplistic answer to a complicated issue touching free speech, sovereignty in a country that has seen uprisings, instability and occupation and increasingly complex U.S.-China relations, there is the thought that revolves around a simple phrase that people in Washington, D.C. are all too familiar:
The Chinese government has started blocking Hong Kong-based Google.cn, a day after the California technology company announced it was shifting its servers from Beijing to the former colony, The New York Times reported.
Google on Monday started to operate Google.cn without filters.
One fallout from the highly-watched spat stemming from hacked Google Gmail accounts and reports of stolen code is that Chinese and Hong Kong companies are ending relationships with the California company, or at least halting them for now.
Flowers rest on Google's sign in Beijing. Photo source: hunxue-er's photostream on flickr
I thought I’d give the Google-China news hours to pass from Thursday’s developments before I typed my thoughts.
My initial ones: The dramatic twists continue, the rhetoric fascinates and with everything in life, it’s best to remember that what you think might be the core of the debate, the center of the action could just be a diversion to the main attraction.
Or it really could be the center.
We also know that much face has been lost in this brouhaha. By the way, senior Chinese leaders don’t like to lose face – that’s why closed-door meetings with them are preferred.
Given that Google brought its charges – that Gmail accounts were hacked and intellectual property was stolen – so publicly how will Google and the Chinese government save face?
I’ll get to some lighter things for this blog soon.
But I’m glad I read The New York Times article by John Markoff and Ashlee Vance about hackers and safety concerns of software companies because it reminded me of information swirling in the Google in (or possibly out of) China drama.
That is: Exactly what was the target of the hackers from China who broke into Google?
I don’t know whether all the online copy moving about Google’s possible exit from China is good - meaning that there’s plenty to read – or somewhere else on the charts – meaning that there’s plenty to read.
But a quick visit to the People’s Daily revealed an article about Google investigating whether its own employees in China had participated in what executives have described as sophisticated attacks on the Internet giant, including hacked Gmail accounts of activists critical of senior leaders in Beijing.
This graphic illustration was part of a U.S. art show last year about design changes in China. It also captures business change, too. Image source: Portland Art Museum
I thought that kicking off 2010 with a video of California jellyfish moving gracefully in the water would be a colorful, neutral and fun way to begin the New Year.
Well, the sound you heard emanating from China in recent days, including Monday, was the popping cork from the Google-Chinese government brouhaha getting louder and more dramatic – in numeric terms, words being used and ensuing actions.
There is a real – and sad – possibility that U.S.-China relations this year might become tenser.
Tensions have been lurking about for years on a variety of issues, including trade and currency valuation. The Google news this week – announcing that the company wanted an unfiltered search engine in China and sophisticated cyber attacks against Gmail – marks the first cork to pop for 2010.
For the most part, China - including its economy and the nation as a whole – is ascending. Its leaders are using their new economic, political and global clout in many noticeable ways.
I remember a time, in the 1990s or so, when Chinese leaders looked at successful Western companies and said: We must learn from you.
This was done in the context of China’s economic trajectory, from moving from a developing status to a more developed one.
Many Western business leaders were treated like superstars in Beijing and Shanghai in ways they never imagined at home.
There were face-giving banquets, motorcades with black sedans, five-star hotels and business cards with big titles.
In television interviews, hosts asked Western business leaders how they became so successful and lobbed easy-to-answer questions. There were speeches packed with many adoring audience members who looked at the leaders as if they literally had invented the Internet.
The word “friendship” must have popped up numerous times in these conversations that used translators.
I’m Chinese American. I’ve always argued for strong, cooperative long-term relations between the United States and China.
I think it’s time that we in the West, if we have not done so already, say to Chinese leaders: It’s time we learn from you.