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Chief says Google won't fight Chinese censorship

BEIJING, April 12 – Google's chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, whose technology company has been sharply criticized for complying with Chinese censors, said today that Google was not lobbying to change the country's censorship laws and, for now, had no plans to do so.

"I think it's arrogant for us to walk into a country where we are just beginning operations and tell that country how to run itself," Mr. Schmidt said during a question-and-answer session with reporters from foreign news organizations.

Mr. Schmidt is visiting China this week to promote the company's new Chinese search engine and to meet with officials of various Chinese ministries. He announced the opening of a new research and development center in Beijing's technology district and also introduced a new Chinese-language brand name for the company's domestic search engine: Gu Ge, which roughly translates as "a harvesting song."

But meeting with Chinese and foreign reporters, Mr. Schmidt faced questions about the censorship controversy that has stained the reputations of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Cisco Systems. In February, executives from the four technology giants endured a lacerating tongue-lashing during a Congressional hearing in Washington. Google's Chinese search engine, launched in January, blocks searches on subjects restricted by the government, including those about Tibet or even for the word "democracy."

Mr. Schmidt defended Google's decision to cooperate with censors and said accepting restrictions, and thereby obeying Chinese law, was unavoidable in order for Google to enter the Chinese market. "We had a choice to enter the country and follow the law," Mr. Schmidt said during the session with foreign reporters. "Or we had a choice not to enter the country."

Earlier, during a broader news conference that included Chinese reporters, Mr. Schmidt said, "We believe the decision that we made to follow the law in China was absolutely the right one."

Not an easy one, however. Mr. Schmidt said the company's China strategy was a hotly debated internal issue and described the final choice difficult but a "principled decision."

Google has been careful in how it has entered China. The company's regular, unfiltered search engine is still available in China, if slowed heavily by Chinese censors. And the new, filtered Chinese search engine does notify a user when information has been censored. Google also has not introduced e-mail or blogging services in order to avoid potentially having to turn over personal information on cyber-dissidents to Chinese officials. Yahoo has been denounced for providing information that has helped Chinese authorities convict cyber-dissidents.

But while Mr. Schmidt said Google did not rule out possible lobbying, he added that the company had no immediate plans to push China to loosen its censorship. Many critics contend that giant technology companies like Google should pressure China to change, even as some industry executives argue that they have little leverage to do so.

Google is still negotiating to receive the full complement of governmental licenses to operate in China. Mr. Schmidt declined to discuss specifics about what sort of licensing hurdles remain, but said he had spent his morning meeting with different Chinese ministry officials.

China already has more than 111 million Internet users, second most in the world and growing quickly. Mr. Schmidt said he expected the country to become one of Google's most important markets, even though China, as yet, accounts for a small slice of the company's revenues. But Mr. Schmidt said the same was initially true when Google entered other international markets, including Europe, where revenues have jumped sharply as users have become more familiar and comfortable with the company's services.

He said he expected the new research center in Beijing to become one of the company's leading innovators. He said Chinese universities would provide a rich talent pool for software engineers and noted that the new center would have a work force of more than 150 by this summer. Eventually, he estimated, the number of employees would reach into "the thousands."

Date posted: April 12, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 12