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 Google stops China censorship, Beijing condemns move

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PostSubject: Google stops China censorship, Beijing condemns move   Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:29 am

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific_business/view/1045327/1/.html

WASHINGTON - A day after Google said it would no longer censor its search engine results in China, angering Beijing, Chinese access to websites covering sensitive topics remained blocked Tuesday.

Google announced Monday in a blog post that it had shifted mainland Chinese users of its Google.cn search engine to an uncensored site in the former British colony Hong Kong, drawing anger from Beijing and raising questions about the Web giant's future in the world's biggest online market.

But Tuesday, searches from mainland computers of subjects like "Falun Gong" and "June 4" -- referring to the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests in 1989 -- produced the message: "Internet Explorer cannot display the web page."

The same searches on Google.com.hk from computers in Hong Kong displayed full results -- suggesting that China was deploying its "Great Firewall" of web censorship.

While ending censorship in China, the Mountain View, California-based Google said it planned to keep sales, research and development teams in the country of some 384 million Internet users.

Google's decision came a little more than two months after the Internet titan threatened to close its Chinese operations because of censorship and cyberattacks it said originated from China.

China said Google was "totally wrong" to stop censorship and blame Beijing for the cyberattacks that allegedly targeted the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

"Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service," said the official in charge of the Internet bureau of the State Council Information Office.

"We're uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conduct."

The White House said it was "disappointed" Google could not reach a deal with Beijing and reiterated that US President Barack Obama is "committed to Internet freedom and... opposed to censorship."

Drummond, Google's top lawyer, said "figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard.

"We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services."

Google co-founder Sergey Brin told The New York Times that shifting the Chinese service to Hong Kong was not given a clear-cut stamp of approval by Beijing but "there was a sense that Hong Kong was the right step."

"There's a lot of lack of clarity," he said. "Our hope is that the newly begun Hong Kong service will continue to be available in mainland China."

Drummond said "the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement."

He said providing uncensored search from Hong Kong is "entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China."

Beijing tightly controls online content, removing information it deems harmful such as pornography and violent content, but also politically sensitive material.

Google launched Google.cn in January 2006 after agreeing to censor websites for content banned under Chinese law. Google.cn is the second-largest search engine in China after Chinese search engine Baidu.com.

Google's decision to end censorship in China was welcomed by human rights and technology groups and US lawmakers.

"It is a remarkable, and welcomed, action and an important boost of encouragement for millions of Chinese human rights activists and political and religious dissidents," said US Representative Christopher Smith, a Republican
from New Jersey.

Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch, called it "an important step to challenge the Chinese government's use of censorship to maintain its control over its citizens."

"Google has taken a courageous position against censorship," said Lucie Morillon of Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders.

Leading Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, who spent nearly two decades in prison and now lives in the United States, said he knew China "would not back down."

"But we also knew that Google's motto was 'Don't be evil.' So there was no point on which to compromise," Wei said.

Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, praised what she called Google's "continued effort to enable China's people with unfiltered access to robust sources of information from all over the world."

- AFP/ir

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