Politics and Morals Clash in China-Google Standoff

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, March 22, 2010

It is actually quite amusing to watch Google and the government of China continue to hurl insults and accusations at each other as part of their ongoing feud involving China’s censorship of information supplied by Google in their country.

According to the Washington Post, China's state-controlled media has intensified criticism of Google, accusing the U.S. company of playing politics by threatening to shut down its China-based search engine. Chinese news reports say Google Inc. is on the verge of making good on a threat to shut down its China site,, because Beijing forces the Internet giant to censor search results, particularly politically sensitive information.

Commentaries carried by Xinhua News Agency, the China Daily newspaper, and other state media accused Google of harboring a political agenda, and said the company must comply with local laws, says the Post. So one side says it is fighting the good fight against censorship while the other side claims it just wants Google to operate within its own laws. Both seem reasonable, yet I suspect the public statements are not the only motivations driving this game of tit for tat.

Do I believe that Google is threatening a shutdown of China operations just because it objects to the government’s censorship? Nope. As many have pointed out, China has literally hundreds of millions of potential Google customers waiting to log on, and Google probably couldn’t care less about some results being filtered out as long as the profits roll in. On the other hand, company executives may still be smarting just a bit from the recent sophisticated attack on Google that hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 U.S. companies. As reported here [LINK TO JAN BLOG], several factors point to the involvement of the Chinese government in that attack. In January, security experts clearly stated that they were not releasing all the information that points to China’s culpability.

Thus, Google is in a tough spot—salivating over a huge potential market and correspondingly huge profits, but more than a little gun shy about doing business with a government that has shown hostile intentions to the United States and its businesses, in its own rather surreptitious way. It would seem that by stirring up anti-Google sentiment in its state-run media, China is setting the stage for Google’s shutdown in that country.

So do I buy the notion that poor China just wants big, bad Google to respect its laws and culture? Nope again. But this time, the issue isn’t money; instead, Chinese leaders have decided that if they can’t control a medium, they would just as well see it banished from their land.

It truly is amazing that the Chinese government can act out so extremely, and yet be the darling of every industry—including insurance—that wants to do business with its gargantuan population. Let’s not forget that this is the same China leadership that has also been linked to cyber-attacks on the Department of Defense. How do we then justify doing business with such an entity?

Our companies, along with Google, have a decision to make when it comes to countries behaving badly. Are we willing to sell our corporate and moral souls in order to swell our bottom lines? Regrettably, at least for some, the answer will be yes.

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at

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