Google Alters China Access In Bid To Keep License

Faced with the possible loss of its license to operate in China, Google says it will no longer automatically redirect Chinese users to its unfiltered site in Hong Kong. Instead, Chinese users will have to click on a tab to gain access to the Hong Kong site. China is likely to view this as another end run around government censors.

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Back in March, Google tried to get around mainland China's censors by moving its Chinese language search engine to Hong Kong. The move quickly grew into a diplomatic dispute between Beijing and Washington. NPR's Anthony Kuhn now reports from Beijing on Google's latest efforts to make an end run around China's censors.

ANTHONY KUHN: As of today, Google's mainland China site has nothing but a hyperlink saying that the site has moved. All you can do is click on it, at which point you are redirected to the Hong Kong site. Before, users were automatically rerouted there. So for the user, the difference is just that one mouse click.

The Google controversy has remained highly politicized, since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used it to press China on Internet freedoms. Harvard Business School Internet expert Ben Edelman says that Google's latest maneuver is unlikely to placate Beijing.

Me. BEN EDELMAN (Internet Expert, Harvard Business School): If China were looking to compromise, this would let China save face. I don't get the sense that they're looking to compromise. They are furious at Google, all the more so after Google takes these steps, and they're not likely to regard this as sufficient.

KUHN: Google's legal counsel, David Drummond, said on his blog that Google made the change because China had threatened to revoke the company's Internet content provider license, which expires tomorrow local time.

Beijing-based information technology blogger Hong Bo says Google needs that license to keep its Chinese Internet address and continue providing email, mapping and other services in China.

Mr. HONG BO (Blogger): (Through translator) The Internet content provider license is extremely important to Google. It doesn't want to lose this annual renewal. If it did, it wouldn't have the right to conduct any Internet business in China.

KUHN: Ben Edelman says the trick for Google is to take credit for pulling its search engine out of China in support of free speech while continuing to do other business there.

Mr. EDELMAN: Google got great publicity in the United States for threatening to pull out of China, and that may have been enough, given the size of their market in China. They just didn't have that much market share. What are they exactly giving up if they can make this compromise work, they can find a way to have their cake and eat it, too. They'd be awfully happy with that outcome.

KUHN: China has not yet responded to Google's latest move. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang today just reminded foreign Internet companies doing business in China to obey the country's laws.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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