PORTLAND, Ore. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Chinese cyber attacks on Google's servers has prompted the search giant to threaten to close down its China operations unless Beijing backs off and allows the company to operate an unfiltered search engine.
Google claims that cyber attacks originating in China last month breached its (and 20 other company's) corporate servers to read the e-mail of Chinese human rights advocates. According to a posting on Tuesday (Jan. 12) by on his blog, Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond claimed the attacks originated in China, but only breached two accounts held by Chinese human rights advocates. Google also said it found that the e-mail accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based human rights groups in China were being routinely breached by hackers who had obtained their passwords through phishing scams or malware.
Google's threat to pull the plug on its Chinese operations is commendable, especially when compared to other service providers like Cisco Systems, which have been repeatedly criticized for providing the networking tools used by Chinese authorities to censor Internet content.
If you inspect Google's declaration closely, however, you will find ample elbow room for remaining in the Chinese market, prompting me to predict that the issue will likely be settled through a high-level political compromises as part of ongoing U.S.-Chinese trade talks.
Google's Durmmond hinted as much when he wrote that its discovery "goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech." That statement, plus the suspicion that the sophistication of the cyber attack makes it likely that they were government-sponsored, points to a U.S.-negotiated political solution.
After all, the U.S. has already complained about the strict new Internet censorship rules that include the Great Firewall of China, deep packet inspections, 50-cent bloggers (who are paid to support censorship in China), and edge-of-network restrictions such as China's Green Dam Youth Escort software which filters Internet content reaching PCs there.
Google's gambit "may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China," the company said, which sounds like the first volley in a political tug-of-war that will inevitably result in compromise. And the U.S. Trade Representative Representative Ron Kirk could lead the negotiations.
After all, why does the U.S. nurture close economic relations with China?. Not because of Beijing's views on human rights. The reason is simple: From an economic standpoint, each country needs the other.