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San Francisco: Google Inc. will shift its search engine for China off the mainland but won’t shut it down altogether, and it will maintain other operations in the country. It’s an attempt to balance its stance against censorship with its desire to profit from an explosively growing Internet market.
On Monday afternoon, visitors to Google.cn were being redirected to Google’s Chinese-language service based in Hong Kong. The page said, according to a Google translation, “Welcome to Google Search in China’s new home.”
Google’s attempt at a compromise could resolve a 2 1/2-month impasse pitting the world’s most powerful Internet company against the government of the world’s most populous country.
Google plans to keep its engineering and sales offices in China so it can keep a technological toehold in the country and continue to sell ads for the Chinese-language version of its search engine in the US
But Google is still taking a risk. The revolt against censorship threatens to crimp Google’s growth, particularly if taking the stand prompts the Chinese government to retaliate by making it more difficult for the company to do business in the country. The ruling party, for instance, could use its filters to block people on China’s mainland from connecting with Google’s Hong Kong-based service.
On Jan. 12 the search company vowed to shake loose from government-imposed restraints on the Internet after determining that Google, along with more than 20 other US companies, had been targeted in a wave of computer hacking attacks originating from China.
The attackers also tried to pry into the e-mail of human rights activists opposed to the ruling party’s policies, according to Google. That raised the specter that the Chinese government or its agents played a role in the espionage, although Google never made a direct accusation.
Despite its outrage, Google had hoped to persuade the Chinese government to let it run a search engine that could deliver unrestricted results. Failing that, Google wanted to find enough common ground to maintain its research center and sales team in the country — an objective that was apparently achieved after the company navigated the labyrinth of ministries in China’s government.
The prospects for a truce seemed remote at times because China’s communist leaders publicly did little to conceal their indignation at Google’s defiance.
“In the view of the Chinese government, censorship is a nonnegotiable issue,” Nicholas Bequelin, a senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “They’re never going to go back on this.”
Earlier Monday, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency launched a new broadside against Google Inc on Monday, saying in an angry commentary that the company had reneged on promises to abide by Chinese law.
Xinhua, in a signed commentary, said Google had promised when it entered the Chinese market to filter its search engine for “harmful content,” in accordance with the law.
“Now Google suddenly wants to break its promise, and if it’s not satisfied it will criticize China for a worsening of the investment environment,” Xinhua said.
The burst of angry Chinese comments suggested that, in spite of the widespread popularity of Google among educated Chinese, the government is steering state-run media and websites to lump the company together with other recent disputes with Washington that have stirred nationalist rancor in China.
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