If Google left China

The Takeaway

Google China headquarters in Beijing. (Image: Flickr user QiFei (CC: by-nc-sa))

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This week, Google threatened to pull out of China after several Gmail accounts of human rights activists were hacked into by cyber attackers in China.

"As we said when we entered China, if we were faced with laws and restrictions that made it more difficult, and that made us believe that we could not operate there in accordance with our values, we would shift gears," said David Drummand, Google's chief legal officer.

While the cyber attacks prompted Google's very public questioning of China, it's unclear at the moment who was actually behind them.

Adam Segal, a senior fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that while the attacks were traced back to China, they might not have originated with the Chinese government. He says the attacks could have come from a government agency acting on its own, or "patriotic hackers" who may not have any connection with the government.

Tenzin Seldon, a Tibetan activist and 20-year-old student at Stanford was among those whose Gmail accounts were hacked. She seems convinced that the Chinese government is behind the attacks.

"The fact that the long arm of Chinese surveillance could reach my hometown here in the Bay Area, and at Stanford, is something I never would have thought could happen," said Seldon. "So of course it's startling and frightening, but at the same time I think it speaks volumes of China."

According to Adam Segal, China's response to Google's threat to leave was, "you're welcome to do business here as long as you follow the law -- period."

If Google really pulls out of China, it would be bad timing in terms of U.S.-China relations.

"We're entering a very turbulent patch of relations between the two countries," said Segal. "We have arms sales to Taiwan which are coming up, which the Chinese have already said they're opposed to severely. We have the visit of the Dalai Lama coming, which the Chinese are going to be very upset about. So we already have some issues that make things very, very bumpy."

Cyber and economic warfare are the larger concerns around the Google attacks. Segal says it's an issue that Congress will be taking up.

"Yesterday the Daily Beast was reporting a leaked FBI report about tens of thousands of attacks that are happening on US companies. So there's going to be a call in Congress -- which is already unhappy with China about economic issues -- for more investigations; some type of reprisal, and so that's going to really make relations between the two very difficult."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to give an address on Internet freedom this month. She's already said that China owes the United States an explanation over what happened in the case of the cyber attacks.

More on this story:
Google lifts filters in China
Google's threat to China

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