OnPoint by Keith Ng


Google to Embargo China

Current status @ 07:20 NZT, 02:20 Beijing time, 14-01-10: Still conflicting reports coming out. It could be that Google has already lifted its own censorship measures. Or it could be that the censorship measures are still up, but because of the intense interest generated (and click-thrus) on sensitive subjects, small holes in the wall are being publicised and magnified.

It doesn't matter any more: People are getting through the wall.

However, being visible on search results doesn't mean that they can access the sites. But it's still a big deal.

Status @ 23:30 NZT, 18:30 Beijing time, 13-01-10: Heaps of reports of uncensored stuff. My post below may not be accurate. The images below show massive differences between google.cn results and google.com.hk results. The difference may be just a residual effect of the censorship - because Google ranks stuff based on links, previously censored materials may still be poorly ranked, even though they're no longer censored.

And now, watching and waiting to see when the site will go down. Why *isn't* it down?

Status @ 22:30 NZT, 17:30 Beijing time, 13-01-10: Despite reports to the contrary Google.cn is still censored.

Here is the results of a Google.cn image search for "六四事件", or "6-4 incident", which refers to the Tienanmen Square massacre, which occurred on 4th of June, 1989.

And here's the results from Google.com.hk and Google.co.nz for the same term - WARNING: Disturbing images follow.


Remember about, oh, a decade ago? Before 9/11? After the Battle of Seattle, when everyone was talking about multinational corporations taking over the world, about corporate states and all of that?

Yesterday, we officially tripped over this point in history.

Take a step back and consider the situation: Google is threatening to embargo a superpower, in retaliation for an espionage campaign.

I mean... holy fucking shit.

Unlike, say, the East Indian Company, it doesn't have a navy or an army. It doesn't control the food supply, have significant land holdings, raw resources, or industrial base. It doesn't have vast numbers of employees, it can't hold the financial system hostage.

It doesn't even control the internet.

All our expectations for how these companies would project their power was wrong.

Only a small part of the threat is economic. Sure, Chinese businesses might not do as well if they couldn't deal with Google, but dealing with local search leader Baidu, or Microsoft, or Yahoo, that's hardly going to cripple the economy.

The truth behind Google's threat is best summed up by this line, which was floating around on Twitter:

"It's not Google leaving China, it's China leaving the world."

We've always thought of companies as having to buy their way to power. After all, they are defined by money. But multinational corporations have finally taken their place in the spotlight of world affairs (instead of pulling strings all the time), and it wasn't with money.

Google represents access to the internet. So by proxy, it represents Everything. When China had a full buffet of Google, and Yahoo and MSN and Baidu, it could maintain the illusion that people really had access to Everything.

If Google takes itself off the table, it will become clear that they don't, and that goes

to the heart of the social contract between the Chinese government and its people.

It's soft power of the abstract, symbolic kind.


A few quotes from Twitter:

"It's not Google leaving China, it's China leaving the world."

"Illegal flowers, illegal loitering, illegal web surfing. When the word 'illegal' is abused like this, that's the day when the dignity of the law is stepped on."
非法献花、非法逗留、非法上网. “非法”二字被滥用之时,就是法律的尊严被践踏之日

"Google withdraws from China, signalling the four big international websites' (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube) complete defeat; anti-Chinese forces have met with huge failure in China, once again proving the undefeatable power of the great, glorious and correct Chinese Communist Party."

(Swear to god - that's an honest translation.)

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