The much anticipated announcement of Google's plans for its Chinese market has finally come down the pipeline. The company has pulled out of the Chinese market, with Mainland customers being redirected to Google.hk.com - Google's Hong Kong server - as of early this morning. From Google's official corporate blog:
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. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.
Chinese officials have issued angry remarks over the decision (the full text of which may be found here), accusing Google of violating corporate promises made when the company initially entered the Chinese market.
What Google's move actually means for the Chinese government, citizen access to information and foreign firms with operations in the country, however, stands to be determined. A few immediate scenarios come to mind. With respect to the former two matters, China could block the Hong Kong site altogether or indeed on a case-by-case basis, perhaps further using the incident to regulate Hong Kong's freedoms - a dangerous path upon which to embark, to be sure. If pursued, such a move could potentially result in an increasing percentage of China's citizenry learning how to use circumvention techniques to get around such censorship - or, perhaps, not. It is, as Rebecca MacKinnon observes, a question of how aware the Chinese are of their government-imposed and managed tunnel vision, and how determined they are to shake themselves from its shackles.
Beyond this, it wouldn't be surprising to find the government imposing increasingly stringent regulations on foreign companies breaking into the market in the future. Again, however, such an approach could potentially hamper FDI inflows into the country if orchestrated on a large enough scale, subsequently obstructing the CCP's objectives of increased investment and growth. Equally, then, growing in realization of the unaccommodating nature of its policies on FDI inflows into the country, we might observe a gradual liberalizing of CCP policies. 'Might' being the operative word in this context.
Indeed, Google's move this morning has seemingly opened a Pandora's box of question and possible policy options. It will be most interesting to track this story as it unfolds. It is most interesting, too, to a observe a corporation affecting a country's domestic - and potentially international - politics in such a profound way. For a great collection of papers on corporations and global governance, do please take a look at the St. Antony's International Review April 2009 issue, which focuses precisely on this very issue.