No clampdown by China as Google re-routes surfers
The Chinese government did nothing to stop internet searches being re-routed to an unrestricted Google site yesterday as it attempted to defuse its dispute with the computer company.
Officials in Beijing had been expected to step in to stop users being redirected to the company's Hong Kong website but instead simply condemned the move.
Despite Google's decision to re-route them, Chinese users were unable to gain access to restricted websites yesterday as "firewalls" remained in place to filter out banned content.
Civil rights groups described Google's surprise move as "a crucial moment" for freedom of expression in China. However, the Beijing government sought to play down the impact of the move to the level of a simple commercial dispute.
"If you link this to China-US relations or politicise it, or even link it to China's international image, this is mere overkill," said a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.
The San Francisco-based internet giant announced on Monday that it was shutting its Chinese search engine and re-routing Chinese Google users through to Hong Kong, where China's internet restrictions do not apply.
China initially responded furiously to the move, branding it as "totally wrong", but yesterday made no attempt to shut the Google domain in China.
Google's decision comes at a time of deteriorating relations between China and the US, including a potentially explosive dispute over the value of the Chinese currency, and yesterday both governments appeared determined to minimise political fallout from the Google row.
"The Google incident is the individual act of a commercial company. I don't see that it would have any impact on China-US relations, unless some people want to politicise it," the Chinese foreign ministry added.
The Obama administration said it was "disappointed" that Google had been unable to reach a deal with the Chinese and, while reaffirming its opposition to Chinese censorship, pledged to focus on areas of "mutual interest".
The tone was in marked contrast to last January following Google's initial announcement that it was pulling out of China when Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, attacked China for its internet censorship regime, to the evident fury of Beijing.
Google said yesterday that it hoped to continue its other business activities in China, including its Gmail, Google Maps and music download service. It will hold a meeting of its 600 staff to discuss the way forward.
However, business analysts remained sceptical that Google's soured relations with the Chinese government would not affect the company's ambitions in the world's largest market. (© Daily Telegraph, London)