In recent weeks, Chinese officials have warned Google that the company must abide by the laws it agreed to follow when it entered the country, even if it decides to alter its relationship with China. Commerce Ministry spokesperson Yao Jian said that even if Google pulls out, "it should handle things according to the rules and appropriately handle remaining issues," and minister of industry and information technology Li Yizhong warned the company that "if you want to do something that disobeys Chinese law and regulations, you are unfriendly, you are irresponsible and you will have to bear the consequences."
But already there are reports that Google may be making trouble: on Wednesday MSNBC reported" that the search engine was bringing up previously censored results for searches such as "Xinjiang independence," "Tibet Information Network," and "Tiananmen Square massacre." Though it could be just a coincidence that the results are coming up at this tense time, Newsweek's Techtonic Shifts blog makes the point that it's nevertheless "a big coincidence."
The fact of the matter is that if Google does leave China, there are Chinese companies that will take up the search engine slack--Google does not dominate the search engine market in China the way it does in the U.S., with local companies such as Baidu already leading the field. But obviously, Chinese companies are in a much weaker position to challenge official censorship rules.
As far as Western companies go, Microsoft, whose Bing search engine stands to gain if Google leaves China, has been "far more obliging to the government's censorship demands," even going so far as to take Google to task for squabbling with Chinese officials over censorship: in an interview with China Daily published today, Microsoft research and strategy officer Craig Mundie pointedly stated that "people in the management who are not familiar with China might make an assumption that the business they operate in other countries will naturally be transferable here. But in most cases that is not true." While Chinese citizens obviously aren't waiting for a Western corporation to bring them internet freedom, apparently they certainly shouldn't expect any help from Bing.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, user Xhacker.