Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Google in China: The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the PR flap over Google’s compromise with the Chinese government, although the paper’s editorial board seems motivated by its irritation with the company’s failure to share private search information with the U.S. government rather than concern about doing business with a totalitarian regime—a fact that’s reflected in a somewhat muddled position.

For those who have not been keeping up, Google just secured the rights to set up a server in China, at google.cn, because its regular servers were very slow when used from within China and was losing out to local competitors. So now google.cn offers a fast search but in accordance with demands from the Chinese government won’t return pro-democracy results.

Google has gotten a ton of criticism from liberal bloggers and now from conservative media too, but I think the company’s position is eminently defensible. Chinese citizens are going to have to deal with censorship when they use search engines located in China whether Google complies with the government or not, so it’s not as though Google has the power to change anything in China—at least directly.

But indirectly, every deal the Chinese government cuts with western business hastens the demise of the dictatorship, albeit incrementally. Engagement by western companies is a force for good, because it exposes Chinese citizens to ideas that they might not otherwise encounter and provides them with more information with which to make choices. Sooner or later, they will choose democracy, and the government will be powerless to resist them.

The apartheid experience convinced me that engagement works. Companies that withdrew from South Africa could make self-righteous and principled statements, but they changed nothing. Those that remained in South Africa helped to drive a series of subtle changes that ultimately made an abhorrent regime untenable.

Overall, Google is likely to be a force for good in China.

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