The dust has far from settled following Google's decision last week to stop censoring its Google.cn search portal and shift all its Chinese search traffic to its Hong Kong operation, Google.com.hk. But already, the company's latest move has been portrayed as everything from naïve and idealistic to economically foolhardy. Nevertheless, the decision is clearly a bold one, and by using a potentially enormous fissure in the politics of contemporary China to take a stand on the question of information openness, it may also prove to be shrewd. At the very least, Google is playing at a much deeper political game than one would typically expect of a corporate entity, and in the process, it is further blurring the boundaries between technology and sovereignty.
Google has operated in China since 2006, complying with PRC directives to censor search results that Beijing finds controversial. And despite its decision to redirect Google.cn traffic to its Hong Kong servers while simultaneously abandoning its compliance with Chinese censorship rules, it has thus far made it clear that it has no interest in closing its offices in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. Nevertheless, through its actions, Google has invited the government of the People's Republic to block its Chinese search traffic, potentially closing it to the largest Internet user base on the planet.
According to Google, the decision was made largely because its directors had grown tired of the terms of the company's deal to enter the country. As Google's co-founder Sergey Brin, the son of Soviet Jewish political émigrés, said of China in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, "In some aspects of their policy, particularly with respect to censorship, with respect to surveillance of dissidents, I see the same earmarks of totalitarianism, and I find that personally quite troubling."