Google last night pulled the plug on its Chinese website, carrying out the threat that launched a two-month stand-off with the Beijing authorities over censorship rules and led to a diplomatic spat between the US and China.
The search-engine giant decided in January that it would no longer bow to controversial laws requiring it censor search results, and the company says it will now redirect all users to a Chinese-language website hosted outside mainland China, where there is no filtering of results.
The company said it was standing up for free speech, and that by redirecting traffic to Google.cn, it hoped to offer users a way round the so-called "Great Firewall of China", which the authorities use to block access to web content deemed subversive. However, it also admitted that its content was now likely to be blocked, and the company sustained a second day of thunderous attacks from state-controlled media yesterday, suggesting that the authorities have no intention of backing down.
David Drummond, the search engine's chief legal officer, said the plan to redirect Chinese users to an unfiltered site in Hong Kong had been hatched after long talks with the Beijing government.
"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. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution. It's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. 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."
Google attracted the opprobrium of human-rights campaigners when it agreed to abide by China's censorship laws in order to set up in the country in 2006. The decision has long caused tensions within the company, whose motto has always been "Don't be evil", and in January it made the dramatic threat to quit China after discovering that hackers had been trying to spy on human-rights campaigners using its email system.
Although the company refused to identify the Communist regime as the likely perpetrators of the attack, it said hackers sought details of the activities of Chinese dissidents and US and European campaigners who advocate for human rights in the country.
Some internet users laid flowers outside the company's Beijing headquarters after hearing of its threat to shut down Google.cn.
And the stand-off took on a deeper political significance after the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, weighed in to criticise China's monitoring of cyberspace. The Chinese response was to accuse the US of "information imperialism".
Reflecting the continuing sensitivity, the White House last night said it was disappointed that Google and the Chinese government had not been able to agree a way forward, but insisted that the company's decision had been dictated by its own commercial considerations, without political interference.Reuse content