Google in China: lionized online, brushed off by Beijing

Beijing’s steely response Thursday to Google’s threat that it will leave China unless censorship stops contrasted with Chinese Internet users’ outpouring of support.

By , Staff writer

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    A Chinese national flag flies in front of Google China's headquarters in Beijing on Thursday.
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A familiar pattern has emerged in Beijing since Google announced that it would close its Chinese business unless it is allowed to operate its search engine here uncensored.

The Internet exploded in a welter of comment from China’s online community, mostly supportive of Google. The government has remained tight-lipped, and now appears to have ordered websites to stifle discussion of the affair.

Making no mention of Google or its bombshell announcement, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Thursday only that “China’s Internet is open. The Chinese government encourages development of the Internet and is building a beneficial environment for it.”

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Casting doubt on that assertion, China’s four largest Web portals Thursday deleted the thousands of comments on Google’s announcement that had been posted the day before. The Chinese government routinely directs major websites not to allow posts about sensitive subjects.

‘Google has guts’

Still lively was Twitter, popular with tech-savvy users who know how to circumvent the government’s block on the social-networking site.

Tweets have shown “overwhelming support for Google,” says Michael Anti, a Beijing-based media analyst. “They are saying Google has guts.”

“It’s not Google that’s withdrawing from China; it’s China that’s withdrawing from the world,” read one Tweet at #Googlecn.

Chinese users of Twitter, however, who probably number no more than 100,000, tend to be able to read enough English to be able to use Google.com, which is available in China uncensored. They do not rely on the Chinese language Google.cn, which is filtered, and can thus contemplate its possible disappearance with equanimity.

‘Very sad’ if Google leaves

So can the majority of Chinese Internet users; 60 percent of them search the Web with a homegrown search engine, Baidu, which has twice as many users as Google.cn.

Baidu, however, cannot match Google.cn services such as maps, translation, and calendars, and most Google.cn users, unfamiliar with English, expressed dismay at the prospect of living without their favorite search engine.

“Without Google … I wouldn’t be able to finish so many tasks in one day,” wrote Sun Bo, a “netizen,” on his blog. “Without Google, how can we survive?”

One blogger hosted an online opinion poll: 80 percent of respondents said they were “very sad” that Google might not be available in China, while 9 percent said they were happy.

Among those who welcomed the news that Google.cn might close were the nationalists who are very vocal on the Chinese Internet. “The party has finally kicked [Google] away,” wrote one anonymous user on the Techweb site. “It is another big victory over American imperialism.”

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