Google: No word yet on China pullout, negotiations continue

Despite an erroneous headline crossing wire services early this morning, which led blogs and even news services to believe Google had already begun a pullout from China, a Google spokesperson has clarified for Betanews today that no announcement has yet been made about any such pullout.

Declining to speak further on the matter, the spokesperson reiterated an earlier statement, which the spokesperson says remains true as of this moment: "We are in active discussions with the Chinese government. We have also been clear that we will no longer self-censor in China."

The confusion apparently stems from a statement that Google Deputy General Counsel Nicole Wong made to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, during a hearing on the subject of the alleged attacks on Google and other US online assets last January. Wong told the House, "Google is firm in its decision that it will stop censoring our search results for China. If the option is that we'll shutter our [Google].cn operation and leave the country, we are prepared to do that."

Although earlier statements from the Chinese government appeared to corroborate Google's claims (as well as those made by US State Dept. officials) that it has been in negotiations with Chinese authorities about how to proceed, last week, a vice minister for information denied that talks between China and Google had even begun. In a statement issued through China Daily last Friday, the Information Ministry attempted to "clarify" the contradictory facts by literally stating they coexisted: Google has been, the MIIT now officially states, in direct talks with Chinese authorities, though in an indirect way. (Perhaps this means by e-mail.) No "headway" has been made through these indirect, direct talks, the Ministry added.

Minister Li Yizhong issued what some took to be a threat, until one reads on to the bottom where another self-contradictory clause was added: "If you don't respect Chinese laws, you are unfriendly and irresponsible, and you will bear the consequences," Li began. Then the small print: "If Google chooses to stay, that will be beneficial to China's Internet market and we welcome that," implying that it will be up to the search company whether it stays or goes.

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