The Google and China Showdown.

Google is betwixt and between, waiting at this very moment to see if China wants to get along badly enough that it will accept Google's new approach to Internet filtering. The new set-up has users inside China click a bright blue link (pictured at right) to lead them to the same unrestricted search results available to Google users in Hong Kong. Searching through the main search box pictured serves up filtered results. Will one click make all the difference?

It's not likely. Google is rather desperately trying to figure out how the company can square its rejection of Chinese online censorship with the fact that the company is not willing to concede the China market quite yet. But the odds seem exceedingly slim that China is going to go for this plan, anymore than it went for the redirection workaround that Google rolled out just three months ago, which automatically pushed users in mainland China
from the filtered Google.cn to the free and open Google.com/hk. "It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials," blogged Google's legal point person David Drummond earlier this week, "that they find the redirect unacceptable." Google, frankly, doesn't seem to have that many good options, as evidenced by the fact that the generally agile company is releasing patches to its global engagement strategy at a pretty good clip.

Part of the problem is reconciling the competing interests here. Google sells freedom, as Clay Shirky recently framed it -- or, at least, free access to the world's information. China is clear that it considers limiting citizens' access to that information a matter of national survival and sovereignty. So what's next? Hillary Clinton has been experimenting with a foreign policy based on a defense of Internet freedoms, but the Obama administration does not seem ready for a major confrontation yet. Beyond that, it's not clear that the U.S.' and Google's interests are perfectly in alignment.

What should freedom-loving peoples be rooting for here? It's not a perfect answer, but perhaps the best one is that China accepts this iteration of Google as a good enough version for the moment.

--Nancy Scola

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