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Who will lose if Google leaves?

By Huang Xiangyang (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-03-19 15:10
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The prospect of a solution to the Google situation is getting dimmer each passing day and the wait time is agonizing. Though negotiations behind closed doors are still going on, the media say it is "99.9 percent certain" that the end is near for the international web search giant in China.

If that comes true, every party will be a loser: users, advertisers, Google itself and the Chinese government.

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Yes, "the sky will not fall" -- as the Chinese saying goes -- if Google decided to pack up and leave China. Other players will jump in to fill the void left by its withdrawal. But for many Internet users, Google has become a way of life. Its importance -- like air whose existence can be felt only when it is taken away – will continue to be perceived by those who have gotten used to its "professional, comprehensive and efficient" service. How will Internet users feel if they have to "google" on a web page without the familiar, yet ever changing, pop logo? No excuse, however soothing it may be, can diminish the pain Internet users have to suffer when they are denied local access to the world's largest and most efficient web search service.

For Google, nothing can be more upsetting in terms of profit making than a retreat from China, the world's largest and fastest growing market. Though it can gain the moral high ground citing government censorship and state-backed hacking activities as reasons behind its planned exit, there is no justification other than foolhardiness for leaving nearly 400 million Chinese netizens behind. This, in addition to the fact that Google knew about the operation environment in China when it first came, makes the company appear aggressive and excitable in engaging in a direct showdown with Beijing, which is known for its history of not budging on anything concerning its rule and sovereignty.

For the Chinese government, Google's withdrawal brings little comfort. It will only reinforce the Western perception of China as a violator of Internet freedom bent on staunching the free flow of information. It will also add fuel to the flame for the worsening Sino-US relations, already troubled by issues ranging from Taiwan to Tibet, from human rights to trade.

One secret of successful negotiation is compromise. Let us keep our fingers crossed that a last-minute compromise can be made in talks between Google and Beijing so that a face-saving solution can be found for both sides.