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Comment: Can China live without Google?

2010-03-22 18:32 BJT

The media's mass coverage of Google's retreat from China showcased a war between the biggest search engine company and the biggest Internet market in the world. The Washington Post issued a report on Friday with the headline, "For Chinese people, loss of Google would mean nothing but darkness", which shows the deeply embedded ideology behind the curtain.

According to the report, Google, which has taken a one-third share in the Chinese Internet market, has become deeply rooted in the country and is now a necessity. It said if China refuses to make compromise to Google, it would become marginalized and be an outcast in the world.

The report is interesting. If Google has generated such a compelling power in China, big enough to leave the country fumble in the dark after its retreat, the thing definitely can be regarded as a shocking cultural clash between the West and the East and the Chinese government cannot afford to sit by and watch.

The Reform and Opening-up policy in China has been carried out for 30 years since 1979, with earlier icons like Coca-Cola, and later McDonald's, KFC and Starbucks Coffee.

The incoming Western goods also brought Western cultures and lifestyles. For instance, the biggest Internet retailer Amazon named its service in China Zhuoyue (excellence).

The albums of the US pop star Lady Gaga and Britain's talent Susan Boyle fly off the CD shelves in China.

All commodities come with some cultures and ideologies. China definitely is influenced by the West, but the influence is mutual. People of a certain culture learn to know a different new thing, but the new thing also has to learn to suit its new customers. That's why KFC serves Chinese porridge and McDonald's provides Chinese food menus here.

It all shows that China never rejects Western culture, but not all Hollywood movies will be a hit in China like "Avatar".

Google arrived in China in 2005; it got its Chinese name "Gu Ge" and Chinese domain name Google.cn the next year. Google then made some compromises to adjust to a different business environment. However, it tried to change the rules after it had gained an "irreplaceable" position in China, i.e. demanding the Chinese government change Internet regulations at their request. Google was confident that China would make some concessions.

Google thought it has already "dominated" many Chinese people's lives, no matter how many more Chinese use Baidu, a local search engine.

I'm not sure if Google knows that its arrogance can easily remind the Chinese people of the "big powers" who cracked open China’s door by warships and cannons in the 19th century. The reason those invaders could make the Qing government sign unfair treaties is that they owned advance weapons that China didn’t have. The Washington Post refuted such association by claiming that it was just an unfriendly propaganda by the Chinese government. The reporter of the Post or even Google didn’t understand that they had been on the road of the big powers again. The only difference was military weapons in the past and Internet service today. The Post has very likely gotten to the nerves of the Chinese government.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao once talked about China's foreign policies when answering questions from Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao. Wen said the Chinese people have suffered a lot in the past 500 years, and that's why they have such strong feelings for their country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China's top leaders have a constant policy that stresses opening up to the world. But Google has challenged the Chinese government's sovereignty by demanding the government accept Google’s presumed definition on "opening up". China has always been in a developing mode that shows no signs of stopping.

Ed Burnette, a columnist from adnet.com under the Columbia Broadcasting System Corp (CBS) says it was "a pity and an avoidable mistake" for Google to retreat from China. And he also says it's "arrogant thinking to assume that we know what’s best for China, and our values can still work well in that very different culture; and it’s an ignorant idea to believe threats and ultimatums can bring positive results, especially from such proud and sufficient people."

The current "China Threat" theory shows Western countries are actually in fear of being dominated by China one day. The same goes for Google, who is insinuating a "you can't do without me" message to China. I was wondering whether Google is waiting for China to cater to it or trying get away from it.

(The comment was first published in Hong Kong's Chinese newspaper Sing Tao Daily)

Editor: Liu Fang | Source: China Daily