Google announced Monday it has stopped censoring its Chinese-language search engine Google.cn and was redirecting mainland Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong.
Google's move, which risks angering the Chinese authorities, came a little more than two months after the Internet giant said it had been the victim of cyberattacks originating from China.
The Mountain View, California-based Google said it would no longer censor search results in China but intends to continue research and development work there and maintain a sales presence.
"Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard," Google chief legal officer David Drummond said in a blog post at googleblog.blogspot.com.
"Earlier today we stopped censoring our search services - Google Search, Google News, and Google Images - on Google.cn," he said.
"Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong."
Drummond expressed hope the Chinese authorities would not seek to block access to Google services, which also include popular video site YouTube.
"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," he said.
"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," Drummond said. "The size of the sales team will obviously be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk."
China has denied involvement in the December cyberattacks which Google said targeted more than 20 other companies and included attempts to access the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists around the world.
Drummond said China made it clear during negotiations that Google would not be allowed to offer an uncensored search engine.
"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," he said.
"We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced - it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China," he said.
Drummond stressed that "all these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them."
Google launched its Chinese-language search engine in January 2006 after agreeing to censor websites for content banned under Chinese law.