Google didn’t have to wait very long to find out if China was going to renew its license to operate in the country. On Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted a government official as confirming that the company’s application had been approved. The decision followed a high-profile spat between Google and the Chinese government over censoring of results in Google’s search engine and the company’s decision in March to automatically divert users to a website based in Hong Kong to sidestep the restrictions.
So which side has given in? According to Rebecca MacKinnon, a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, it’s certainly not Google. She says that some of the commentary suggesting otherwise is misplaced, arguing that Google’s only change to make it compliant with Chinese rules has had ‘no substantive impact on what Chinese Internet users can or cannot access via google.cn.’
Writing on her blog she says:
‘(T)he only thing that has changed since March is that after typing "google.cn" into the browser's address bar and hitting "return," users have to make one extra click before reaching the uncensored google.com.hk…If you have grade school literacy in Chinese it's extremely obvious from looking at that page that if you want to search anything other than music or shopping you can simply click through to google.com.hk. I don't see how adding the extra click prevents users of Google's general search from using the service any more than the direct redirection from google.cn to google.com.hk which Google implemented in March.’
On the possible reasons for the Chinese decision, she says it appears that the pragmatists within the Chinese government won out. It’s a reasonable observation—as she notes, refusing the license would have meant shutting Google out of China completely, thus sending an extremely negative message to the international business community.
If this is the case, it comes at a good time for China, following criticism from the likes of GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt,who earlier this month took a rare pubic swipe at the Chinese government by stating that the country was becoming increasingly protectionist. According to the FT, Immelt pondered out loud in his a speech whether, ‘in the end they (China) want any of us to win, or any of us to be successful.’