After trying to work with Chinese authorities and live up to its announcement in January that it would not longer censor its searches in China, Google redirected its Google.cn website to Google.com.hk. Google argues that this move would help its mainland China users get uncensored searches via Hong Kong servers. Nevertheless, using Hong Kong does not solve Google’s China problem, and the connection with Hong Kong will not be free and easy.
The Washington Post has already reported that sensitive searches on the Hong Kong site have been blocked. China is not worried about the small number of people in Hong Kong looking to the mainland for information, but it is concerned about those on the mainland looking out. Hong Kong authorities do not have to do anything. The Great Firewall in China just has to prevent users from accessing information in Hong Kong, which the Post has said is already happening.
It is important to remember that Hong Kong’s political set-up is also in China’s favor. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong is chosen by 800 electors, all of whom are selected because they will vote as Beijing instructs. The Legislative Council is split between those who are freely elected and those chosen by China. Thus, if China perceives a threat to its information security stemming from Hong Kong, it has an outlet to check that threat. Moreover, if there were those in Hong Kong politics that supported more Internet freedom, they would not have the votes necessary to make laws supporting great access to information for mainland Chinese citizens.
Google is in a tough situation and this redirection of their Google.cn site is probably the best move they can make in order to maintain their pledge to stop censoring its searches in China. Google’s move could help some by providing a direct link to a search engine that should have fewer censorship issues than the original Google.cn. However, such measures ultimately will not expand Chinese internet freedom appreciably. Connecting through Google is now one more difficult step away for those inside China. Furthermore, China’s relationship with, and influence on, Hong Kong is strong enough that there will still be a very difficult struggle for access to complete information located beyond the Great Firewall.