WASHINGTON (AFP) – A top Google executive told US lawmakers Wednesday that the Internet giant is prepared to leave China if Beijingsays it must censor Web searches or quit the world’s most populous online market.
“Google is firm in its decision that it will stop censoring our search results for China,” Google vice president and deputy general counselNicole Wong told the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
“If the option is that we’ll shutter our .cn operation and leave the country, we are prepared to do that,” she said at a hearing on the relationship between Internet technology and aiding democratic activists around the world.
Google threatened in January to leave China over what it said were mid-December cyberattacks aimed at its source code and at the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists around the world.
In the meantime, Google has continued to filter results on its Chinese search engine, Google.cn, and posted ads for dozens of positions in China, which has the world’s largest number of online users at 384 million.
Wong said the company was mindful that it has “hundreds of employees on the ground” and understands “the seriousness or the sensitivity” of its decision but “we will stop censoring” search results in China.
“We are not going to change our decision on not censoring results anymore,” she said.
Wong said China is on “a trajectory of increasing political censorship” in every medium, including the Internet, but would not say that the late 2009 cyberattacks were tied in any way to the government in Beijing.
But Larry Wortzel, a member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission tasked with annual reports on the national security implications of the bilateral economic relationship, declared “it was theChinese government.”
Wortzel said he had “very little doubt” that Beijing was behind the attacks, and stressed that he was not a lawyer bound by formal court procedures but a former intelligence analyst drawing his own conclusions.
Lawmakers took turns sharply criticizing China and Iran at the hearing for efforts to censor Internet communications and crack down on democratic activists — but Google and rival Microsoft also drew a few barbs.
Republican Representative Chris Smith pointed to a Forbes magazine report quoting Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer as saying Google was acting irrationally and vowing to censor search results if instructed to do so.
“If the Chinese government gives us proper legal notice, we’ll take that piece of information out of the Bing search engine,” the magazine quoted Ballmer as telling oil company executives in Texas in January.
“Frankly, I find that outrageous,” said Smith, who called “unconscionable” Ballmer’s reported description of the US commitment to freedom of speech as “extreme.”
“We are frankly very puzzled by the comments,” said Wong, adding the remarks were “not consistent” with Microsoft’s position as part of the industry’s Global Network Initiative push for human rights worldwide.
“Certainly we would never minimize the human rights impact of censorship in China or any other country,” said Wong.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher welcomed Google’s commitment to stop censorsing search results in China but underlined: “Unfortunately, Google has yet to follow through on and to stop self-censoring.”
“Our praise shouldn’t be for an intent, our praise should be for accomplishing what has been set out,” he said.