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Google, China, and Dueling Internets?

Interviewee: Adam Segal, Ira A. Lipman Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and National Security Studies, CFR
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org
January 14, 2010

Google, the world's leading search engine, has announced it will no longer censor search results on its Chinese service. Google said it had discovered attacks on its system that resulted in the loss of its intellectual property. Although Google did not blame the Chinese government, it said the attacks could be traced to China and appear to have targeted human rights activists in China, Europe, and the United States. This will likely result in Google having to shut down operations in China. CFR Senior Fellow Adam Segal says it's unlikely the Chinese will make concessions for Google on censorship.

China leads the world with nearly 300 million Internet users, but the Chinese government has large, sophisticated filtering systems to censor the Internet. The Opennet Initiative, an academic research project that studies Internet filtering, reports that the Chinese government employs pervasive filtering on political and security-related issues. The Chinese government, however, denies this. In response (Xinhua) to Google's statement, a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry said: "China's Internet is open," and added that "China's law prohibits cybercrimes including hacker attacks." Segal says Google's possible withdrawal from China has consequences both for the future of the worldwide web as well as for U.S.-China relations.

Segal says we might be heading toward a world of separate Internets, with a West-led Internet and a range of other webs such as one controlled by China. He says the world may "no longer have a worldwide web" but "a series of regional webs separated both by technology and by politics and culture."

Google's announcement has drawn concerns in the United States, and Segal says it comes at a difficult time in U.S.-China relations. "The Google decision also feeds into a broader sense of China as spoiler especially after Copenhagen [global climate conference] and [that] China at least is more assertive on a range of issues. I would suspect the next six months [in the U.S.-China relationship] is going to be very bumpy."


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