China Warns Internet Companies To Obey Controls

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One day after Google threatened to leave China, the Chinese government is warning Internet companies to obey government controls. A foreign ministry spokeswoman said China welcomed foreign companies to take part in Internet development, according to the law. Google says it wants to stop censoring its Chinese-language search engine; and if this isn't possible, it says it will leave China.


Well, China's not going to give up right away on Internet censorship. As we've been telling you this week, the giant search engine company Google says it may leave China if it has to keep censoring its service there. The Chinese answer is that Google should do as it's told and go along with government controls. NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Shanghai on a test of wills.

LOUISA LIM: Two years ago, civil rights lawyer Teng Biao found his Gmail account had been hacked into and his email addressed used to send viruses to contacts. And the electronic interference didn't stop there. He's convinced the Chinese authorities are involved. He describes what happened when he typed up a plan to investigate labor camps and detention centers in China.

Mr. TENG BIAO (Civil Rights Lawyer): (Through Translator) I saved this research plan in my mailbox and I didn't tell anyone about it. But when the police came to talk to me, they mentioned this plan. This shows they know clearly what's in my mailbox, even draft documents. I asked them how they knew, and they said they had all types of methods.

LIM: Such interference is the reason behind Google's threats to leave China. If it does so, it will be sacrificing any potential profits in the world's largest and fastest growing Internet market. China has an estimated 360 million Internet users. That creates a search engine market worth $1 billion last year. Google, in second place, enjoys around 36 percent market share behind market leader, the Chinese search engine Baidu. But the operating environment for Western businesses has been changing.

Mr. DUNCAN CLARK (Chairman, BDA China): There has certainly been a hardening of the climate in terms of foreign businesses in China over the last six to 12 months.

LIM: Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA telecoms consultancy in Beijing. He says multinationals are battling a Chinese attempt to enforce domestic encryption technology on their operations.

Mr. DUNCAN: There has been a sort of queasy feeling developing that protecting their own intellectual property or protecting their customer's IP has been called into question, as well as a raft of other measures, such as Chinese government agencies seeking to buy China - limiting the sales of Western companies in China. China is awash with cash. They don't necessarily need multinationals, perhaps, as much as they used to.

LIM: But some local Internet users certainly still feel they need Google. For a second day, they presented flowers at Google's office here in Shanghai.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: So this is a very high-tech type of action. There's a couple of people here who've all got mobile phones, and they're tweeting, they're taking pictures of everything. And now security has arrived, and they're escorting us out of the building.

Some like Sun Lee(ph) are unhappy about the prospect of Google's departure.

Mr. SUN LEE: (Through Translator) If they really cared about information freedom, they'd stay in China and resist the Chinese government. The biggest beneficiary of Google's move is the Chinese government. And the biggest victims will be us netizens.

LIM: It's difficult to gage how widely that sentiment is shared. One local paper, The Global Times, ran on online poll asking if Google should be allowed to run an unfiltered search engine. At first, only 30 percent of respondents said yes. Then the number of those calling for an uncensored search engine suddenly soared dramatically. The paper stopped the poll and blamed the result on interference.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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