Washington: The United States cautioned that China must consider the “implications” of Google’s decision to effectively shut down its Chinese search engine because of censorship and cyber-hacking.
China has angrily attacked Google for stopping censorship of its Chinese-language search engine but said there should be no broader fallout in Sino-US ties provided there is no political meddling in the United States.
While the Chinese press on Wednesday said Google would regret its move, both countries appeared keen to limit the row as they strive to get one of the world’s defining relationships back on track after months of tension.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the United States respects but was “not party” to Google’s decision to redirect Web search queries from mainland China to an uncensored site in Hong Kong.
While Washington stands for Internet freedom, “individual businesses will make judgments as to the investment opportunity in China,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“We value the economic relationship between the United States and China,” Crowley said, citing massive increases in trade over nearly three decades.
“That said, were I China, I would seriously consider the implications when one of the most recognizable institutions has decided that it’s too difficult to do business in China.”
Despite Google’s promise of uncensored results, searches of politically sensitive key words generated the browser message “cannot display the webpage” -- suggesting China’s “Great Firewall” of Internet control remained intact.
In Beijing, officials reserved their ire for Google, which lifted censorship of Google.cn in response to cyberattacks that the company said targeted the email accounts of Chinese rights activists.
“I don’t see it influencing Sino-US relations unless some people want to politicize it,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Tuesday, describing the Google situation as “mainly an individual commercial case.”
“If you link this to China-US relations or politicize it, or even link it to China’s international image, this is mere overkill,” Qin said. “China’s market is fully open.”
Hours after the Google announcement, Beijing announced that high-level strategic talks with Washington would go ahead in late May.
The talks will be the highest-level meeting between the two sides since ties broke down earlier this year, over US arms sales to Taiwan, the value of the yuan and a visit by the Dalai Lama to the White House -- and Internet freedom.
Google said it was “business as usual” at its China headquarters, as a fierce debate erupted online between Chinese defenders of free speech and nationalist-minded net users denouncing foreign interference.
China’s state media on Wednesday belittled Google’s decision, saying the Internet firm had made a costly mistake in the world’s largest online market.
“With its action to shift its search service from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong yesterday, the world’s top search engine has made a huge strategic misstep in the promising Chinese market,” the Global Times said.
The China Daily said “Google’s efforts to make this issue into a political spat” had failed to gain traction, and relished the “moment of peace” created by the company’s decision two months after the dispute erupted.
Despite its decision, Google said it plans to maintain its sales and research and development teams in China, which has the world’s largest online population at 384 million.
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 Baidu.