Google vs China: The Soft A-bombWritten by Julen Madariaga on March 24th, 2010
How many times have we seen the discussion on China forums about what exactly is Soft Power? That mysterious force of the white side that the Jedi use in international politics, turning all arguments to their advantage? China has coveted this weapon for years and spent many a valuable resource in its quest, but all to no avail, to the point that some have started to doubt the very existence of the Force.
Well, for those who doubted, here you have the proof. Get the solid worldwide reputation of Google Inc. for non-evilness, add an American president that enjoys public support in almost every corner of the World, and you can assemble a Megaton soft bomb with the power to break through all the conventions of international politics. That is exactly what Google’s actions represent today, and for the time being they are obtaining the expected support outside of China.
While at first some observers interpreted the Hong Kong move as a face saving one, I think after Brin’s appeal to Obama today there is little doubt that this was not the case. What is probably even worse from the CCP’s perspective is the direct link set up today on Google HK to Drummond’s blog post in Chinese. Up to now only a few Chinese activists had bothered to read the message, now every single Google.cn user is sent there. Google is attempting to speak directly to the people of China, bypassing the channels of the government, how is that for a detonator?
This is the kind of action that only a company like Google could risk, and only a government like Obama’s could support without lifting suspicions all around the World. It is a completely new approach to international politics where a company now is not only pushing for political goals, but even addressing peoples and governments directly as an equal. Any company in the World acting like this would get a severe rebuke from its own government, but I doubt that this will be the case for Google.
It does not work like this
I have been quite negative about Google’s actions ever since this “New Approach” started in January. Unlike other critics, I don’t doubt the sincerity of Google’s leaders or the goodness of their objective. On the contrary, I am convinced that this is a deliberate personal move by Google’s leaders to do their real significant bit while they are still in time, before they lose full control of the corporation. With the growth of Google this is bound to happen soon, and both Page and Brin have announced the sale of a good chunk of their shares this year.
But my reasons to be against Google’s plan are much more simple than that. It is just that I think it will not work.
I readily admit that I might be wrong, indeed I hope so, this is a completely new approach and nobody has all the certainty. But from my observation of China in the last few years, I can’t see how the plan might work. The government will try to avoid a scene, and it is possible that for a while Google will remain unblocked. But sooner or later the CCP is going to have them pay for this, the door has been left wide open for another call to patriotism, and the consequences will be bad for the Chinese and for the internet.
A problem of principles
In fact, even if the outcome turns out to be good, I am not comfortable with the principle of Google’s actions. It is a principle of moral superiority, the old story of Western people going to different continents and killing as many as they could to save them from the wrong faith. It is based on the boundless Western hypocrisy that allows us even today to commit some of the worst crimes in the World while proudly walking under the banner of human rights.
Granted, Google’s bomb is a soft one and it does not kill people, my parallel only goes so far. But if we look at the recent history of China, we will see that the Chinese today are far better off than they were at any other time of the last century, including when the West had power over them. And surprisingly enough, whatever freedom and progress the Chinese have today was not achieved through ultimatums or moralizing stances. On the contrary, it was achieved by the patient work of millions of Chinese who sincerely care about their country.
And those people didn’t manage it alone, together with them there are also thousands of foreigners like me who have been working here for years, helping China develop its technologies, teaching English to the Chinese, dealing with the authorities and getting our hands “dirty” with things like the Olympics or the Expo. Events that the righteous minds in the West thought they should have never been given to the Chinese, because they don’t share our true faith.
I am convinced that this is the right way to develop China and the rest of the World, helping them out on the daily hard work, and avoiding righteous heroes that take us nowhere. And in spite of all the times I have had to swallow my pride and take what came from the Chinese authorities, when I speak with most of the Chinese around me I don’t see suffering and oppression, but hope in the future. That is the best sign that we are doing it right. Let’s be patient.