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Google fools itself and the Chinese people

Google, the high-flying Internet search company founded on the idea that to do business one doesn't have to do evil, has taken a big step towards implicating itself in the evil of the Chinese Communist regime.

This past Tuesday Google announced the launch of a new search engine in China, Google.cn. That search engine complies with the demands of the Chinese regime for control over the Internet inside China.

Google represents itself as having the interests of its users at heart. In a statement posted on its website, Senior Policy Council Andrew Mclaughlin writes, "We ultimately reached our decision by asking ourselves which course would most effectively further Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible... Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world's population, however, does so far more severely."

Mclaughlin refers to this "hard compromise" as justified by the ultimate results. "Our continued engagement with China is the best (perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits of universal information access to all our users there."

When content is censored, Google says it provides a message to alert searchers that "results have been removed to comply with local law."

Google is not providing Chinese users e-mail or blogs, as its rivals in China do. Google obviously has in mind the examples of Yahoo!, who recently provided user information on dissident Shi Tao, who was then arrested and imprisoned by authorities, and of Microsoft, whose MSN shut down a blog that the Chinese regime found offensive–even though that blog was based in the U.S.

In other words, while Google may see itself as getting a little dirty in choosing to deal with China, through the magic of its engagement with China, Google believes all of that dirt will come clean in the end.

George Orwell and Google

Critics rightly point out that Google's justification of its actions is Orwellian.

Google is simply not telling the truth about what it is doing. Mclaughlin says Google has "agreed to remove certain sensitive information" from its website.

But Google does more than remove information. It dispenses propaganda. For instance, if one searches the term "Falun Gong" on Google.cn, the search yields the Communist regime's hate-filled propaganda–and no accurate information about Falun Gong from either Falun Gong or third party sources. The Google user who only has Google as a source of information would never know that there is any view other than that of the Chinese regime.

If one searches terms such as "democracy," "human rights," "Tibet" or "Taiwan," one does not receive accurate information. One will, for instance, have the opportunity to read a few articles about scenic vistas in Tibet, but nothing about the conquest, colonization, cultural eradication, and genocide that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has inflicted upon this nation.

What Mclaughlin refers to as "sensitive information" might better be described as "any accurate information that challenges the brutal tyranny under which the Chinese people are suffering."

What Mclaughlin refers to as "filtering" is "censorship."

And reading Mclaughlin, one would never know that Google is in fact a business. What he describes as "our mission" simply leaves out Google's intention to make money. His language sounds like that of a humanitarian organization, not that of a Fortune 500 company worried about such things as market share or strategically positioning itself to dominate its piece of information technology as thoroughly in the 21st century as it did at the end of the 20th century.

George Orwell invented "newspeak" to show how totalitarian regimes change the meaning of words in order to control the minds of their subjects. What Orwell limned in his novel "1984" has become a central feature of the modern world, and not just in totalitarian regimes. In free countries, successful politicians are adept at "spin" (a locution Orwell would have immediately seized upon), and advertising agencies exist to convince people they urgently need things they had not previously ever even imagined existed.

Behind the original totalitarian newspeak Orwell described and its commercial and democratic cousins lies the recognition on the part of the speaker that reality does not suit the speaker's purposes. Orwellian language exists not to describe the world as it is, but to manipulate others into living in an artificial reality.

No one would suggest that Mclaughlin or his high-minded colleagues at Google are totalitarians. But Google's defense of its actions is deeply dishonest. On the one hand, the need for that dishonesty shows the corruption Google is already acquiring through its China connection. On the other hand, that dishonesty also reveals how Google is fooling itself. Behind its Orwellian speech lies a great illusion about China.

The Myth of 'Transformation'

Google is hardly alone in being betrayed by its illusions about China. In his indispensable book, Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal , Ethan Gutmann describes "the Gold Mountain"–the obsessive desire to get rich in China that has driven American companies to pour a seemingly unending flow of investment into China, with little to show in return.

What justifies and helps drive this obsession with getting wealthy in China is the idea that Western companies by doing business in China will "transform" China. Their presence, by helping enrich China will strengthen a free market, help create a middle class that will on its own demand political reform, and through the example of Western institutions and principles show the way to creating a more just society.

Western companies can have the best of all worlds. They can do good by doing well for themselves. The pursuit of profit will naturally lead to the realization of human rights and democracy.

This is Mclaughlin's and Google's hope. Mclaughlin speaks of the positive effects of Google's "continued engagement" with China and how Google is in this "for the long haul."

Companies who imagine they are "transforming" China are always in it for the "long haul." The change in conditions–and their own profit–is just around the corner. There is light at the end of a tunnel that somehow never seems to grow shorter. Meanwhile, the tyranny continues to adapt and its corruption, repression, torture, and murder doesn't stop.

This is the message that Ethan Gutmann brought back from China for American business. It is also the message given by Joe Studwell in his more historical account "The China Dream."

Mclaughlin and Google of course see Google as the exception–the perfect sign they like all the others have been seduced by the temptation of China.

Before Google makes the "significant and growing" investments Mclaughlin mentions, its shareholders might want to read a short article by Perry Wu, "Google Is Destined to Fail." ( China Tech News Jan. 26, 2006)

He writes, "Chinese history is filled with tales of foreigners coming to the Middle Kingdom with money, but leaving the country poor, confused and embarrassed."

Wu correctly points out that Google can never succeed in China because it is not a Chinese company. He points to the failures of Yahoo!, Lycos, and Netscape, and also to MSN's lack of success.

Wu sees this pattern of Western failure as cultural. One would have liked to see Wu add a political dimension to his analysis. These companies fail because the CCP cannot allow them to succeed. The big players in China's economy must be owned by CCP members or their family members so that the CCP can maintain its tight control over Chinese society. Western companies are courted for the investments they bring and the proprietary technology that can be stripped from them by hook or by crook. Google is no exception.

Totalitarianism and Reality

We are said to live in a new epoch, the information age. Our destinies are said to be determined not by where we live but by what we know–and in principle there are said to be no barriers any longer to our acquiring knowledge. But this unprecedented dream of human liberation has the potential to bring humanity an unprecedented nightmare.

As George Orwell recognized long before the Internet, we are all hostages to the version of reality to which we have access. Google is in the business of providing the people of China a virtual reality. It fences around what is doing with qualifications and attempts to excuse itself, but its search engine is helping make Chinese totalitarianism more perfect. It is helping construct a reality that serves the needs of the CCP's tyranny.

China will soon have more Internet users than any other country. China's extensive although not yet perfect control of the Internet has defied experts who said that controlling the Internet could not be done. Those efforts continue to become more sophisticated and extensive. And China in world forums has been promoting its regime of Internet censorship. Other tyrannies are sure to follow the path it is blazing.

We can only hope that Google–and others–will awaken from their illusions about China.

Date posted: January 28, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 11