The battle between the US and China is heating up. The stakes are high, having both pride and money on the line. It’s a classic showdown reminiscent of old times.
It looks like 1995, that is, in that a search engine war is just heating up. This one is between google and baidu, the Chinese search engine that rose to dominate the Chinese market after google pulled out in 2010 rather than comply with censorship laws. Google is reversing that decision in a strategic business operation which will leverage …
… oh, who am I kidding. Google is selling out bigtime and crawling back to China. Wow.
Like everything which passes for news today, this started out as a leak through suspicious sources. The Intercept first published the story a week ago based on some internal, confidential documents they obtained that were confirmed by unnamed sources. Journalism today is just wonderful.
The story has not been confirmed or denied by google, but there has been a reaction in China. That generally means a confirmation, reading between the lines, so we know this is real. Seriously, that’s how journalism works. Baidu, the search engine that came to dominate China in their absence, said that “Chinese tech companies have already taken the lead… The whole world is copying from China.”
This is, of course, all about national pride at some point.
Speaking of national pride, the documents suggest that google is indeed going to completely cave in to government censorship, disallowing all references to human rights, resistance, and so on. A test bed was apparently developed, nicknamed “Maotai” after the incredibly strong poteen-like liquor known as Baiju.
In other words, take a strong drink but be sure you don’t taste it.
This is an important development for a lot of reasons. First of all, the world is going to be connected no matter what and it is ultimately foolish to try to stop it. Second of all, governments are going to control what they can’t stop, if at all possible, and the amount of money involved in international trade is such that big companies will indeed swallow their pride to comply.
Lastly, China is rising, but you already knew that one.
It’s easy to criticize google for caving in so blatantly, as I just did by coloring that sentence the way I did. This has to feel bad. But in the long run, a China with google is going to be a tiny bit more open than a China without it. Things will get through once in a while, probably more than ever get through the obsequious Baidu. Competition between the two will highlight the relationships between our cultures and spark curiosity. It’s better to be there than to not be there.
Still, this is how it’s going at this moment. Nation states still dictate the rules on their turf, despite the enormous pressures to be global. The strain is still building over this, and it’s not clear how it will be revealed.
For now, google and parent company Alphabet will be competing in a world of Hanzi characters and Chinese rules. We live in interesting times.