Google’s announcement that it will stop restricting search results on its Chinese platform — a condition set when the Internet giant entered the Chinese market in 2006 — and the threat that it could pull out of China altogether if Beijing continues to launch cyber attacks for gathering information on human rights activists is a praiseworthy development. It shows that even large corporations that stand to make a fortune from the gigantic Chinese Internet market can abide by their principles when the state overreaches.
The decision may also have been self-interested, as the conditions imposed on Google for entry into China had tarnished its reputation, something that was put in sharp relief when Yahoo pulled out of China after data it gave the Chinese authorities resulted in the arrest of journalists. (Yahoo sold its China business to Alibaba Group [阿里巴巴] in 2005, while acquiring a 39 percent stake in Alibaba.)
Some commentators, including Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World, have argued that Google’s battle with Beijing demonstrates that China has forever transformed the world and that, consequently, Google has already lost the fight.
“The Google model of a free and open Internet, an exemplar of the American idea of the future, cannot and will not prevail,” Jacques wrote in Newsweek last week. “China’s Internet will continue to be policed and controlled, information filtered, sites prohibited, noncompliant search engines excluded, and sensitive search words disallowed. And where China goes, others … will follow.”
This view is flawed because there is nothing teleological about authoritarianism, just as there is nothing teleological about democracy. Had the Internet existed when the Soviet Union was at its apex, would Jacques have made the same prediction, drawing on Russia’s centuries-old history of strong, centralized rule? Back then, did thinkers in the West argue that Moscow would forever alter the way we share information because the Soviet Union was censoring the media and arresting dissidents? Did we abandon dissident writers like Vaclav Havel and Czeslaw Milosz? Of course not.
In time, the Soviet Union, rife with contradictions and ossified by lack of freedoms, collapsed, and people like Havel were hailed as heroes.
China’s economy may be almost twice the size of the Soviet Union’s at its demise, and its population about six times as large, but this doesn’t mean the world will be more willing to accommodate Chinese authoritarianism than it did during the Cold War.
In fact, thanks to the ubiquity of electronic media and global travel, people today are more aware of what’s going on abroad, and are better equipped to access that information, than at any time. Even Chinese, who live under a regime seeking to control information, have a better chance of learning about the world than Czechs, Poles and Russians did under Soviet rule. And the thirst for that knowledge is equally strong. There is nothing in the Chinese character that makes them less inclined to seek the truth.
As China rises and its leadership shows no sign of liberalizing, the last thing we want to embrace is defeatism, believing that we can’t do anything about the impact this will have on our world. More than ever, people are starting to realize that China’s philosophy on freedom of expression is threatening our way of life. Ask Australians during the Melbourne International Film Festival, or Taiwanese when newspaper editors are fired as a result of pressure from Beijing.
Google’s decision is not capitulation. It is taking a stand for the liberties that the great majority of human beings cherish and aspire to. Let’s hope others follow Google’s lead.
Due to enduring the Kafkaesque situation of having two accidents in 30 minutes, one involving an accident with an ambulance, I would like to share my personal experience. Both cases show the loopholes of Taiwanese law, which is a driving factor for the terrible traffic conditions in the nation. I was driving my scooter on the main road in Taoyuan’s Yangmei District (楊梅). Despite there being no cars behind me, a young man in an old car made a sudden left turn and I bumped into his vehicle. At first, the man tried to run away, but was blocked by other
The pre-eminent authority on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), last month issued an update to one of its entries, adding the term “Chinese dragon” to its lexicon for the first time. The Chinese word long (龍) has for a long time been translated simply as “dragon,” but many commentators opposed this, believing that the traditional Western concept of a dragon is represented by the embodiment of a fearsome, wicked monster that must be killed. It was deemed unsuitable to use a wicked and inauspicious Western dragon to refer to an auspicious Chinese dragon, so it was recommended that a
My recent trip to Taiwan to vote in the presidential and legislative elections was a simple civil duty. Yet, it was still an eye-opening experience for a long-time US resident, given the similarity in political divisions of the two-party system in both countries. As the Washington Post said: “This isn’t just an election year. It’s the year of elections.” Taiwan’s election was to choose between pro-democracy and pro-China. To a good extent, the US election in November would also be the decision time for defending democracy. The strength of a democratic society lies in the quality of its people, who
It has been a year since China relaxed the “zero COVID-19” measures that had been stifling economic activity, but the country has yet to experience the rebound that policymakers and pundits anticipated. Instead, economic indicators from last year have painted a disheartening picture. The fallout from the massive property developer Evergrande’s 2021 collapse is far from over, and the sector continues to struggle, even after the Chinese government relaxed purchasing restrictions in cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai. China’s financial health has also declined as local government debt has snowballed, leading Moody’s to downgrade the country’s credit outlook in December last year.