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Asia-Pacific
Google moves off China mainland
Search engine redirects users to Hong Kong page to avoid censorship.
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2010 05:11 GMT
Google will keep some research and development
and sales offices in China [EPA]

Google has said that it has closed its search engine business on the Chinese mainland, in a move to avoid censoring its Chinese-language search engine.

The richest internet firm in the world made the annoncement on Tuesday, after months of tension with China, although it will keep some research and development, and sales offices in the country.

Users of Google's Chinese search engine will now be redirected to the company's Chinese-language service based in Hong Kong.

China said that the move to stop censoring its search engine was "totally wrong".

On Monday, the Hong Kong-based page said, according to a Google translation, "Welcome to Google Search in China's new home".

David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said in a blog post: "In terms of Google's wider business operations, we intend to continue R&D work in China and also to maintain a sales presence there, though the size of the sales team will obviously be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk."

Tensions

Maintaining research and development offices in China will allow Google, based in San Fransisco in the US, to have a technological presence and access to sell advertising space for its Chinese-language version of the search engine in the US.

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However, the move could annoy leaders in Beijing and push them to block access on the mainland to the Hong Kong-based page.

Officials could also prevent Google from working in the China altogether.

In January, Google was one of more than 20 US firms targeted by hackers originating in China.

Google said that email accounts of human-rights activists opposed to China's ruling Communist party were tampered with by the hackers.

This meant government agents were potentially the culprits of the attack, although Google never made this accusation directly.

Google then said that it would then work to end state-restrictions on its Chinese service. However, it has appeared to fail in convincing authorities to allow them to run a service without restrictions.

Google had been self-censoring its results on its China service. A Chinese government firewall will now filter results.

'Non-negotiable'

"Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard," Drummond wrote.

"We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement."

Clay Shirky, an internet expert, told Al Jazeera: "Google has forced the Chinese government to explain to citizens in Shanghai why their search experience is going to be inferior to subjects in Hong Kong.

"When it could be portrayed as China versus a Western imperialist country, that was a fairly easy case to make to the Chinese people.

"For the government to have to say this is a distinction between two classes of Chinese citizen ... it is a political sticky wicket for them to make this case to their citizens."

Shirky said that China was never a leading market for Google, which took about a one-third share of search activity there, which allowed them to take a lead on the issue of censorship.

About 700 of Google's 20,000 employees are based in China.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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