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Google stops censoring China search results after legal dispute

[JURIST] Google [corporate website] officially stopped censoring search results to Chinese users on Tuesday after a legal impasse was reached between the Internet giant and the Chinese government. Google announced Monday that it would be rerouting [press release] the Google.cn website through the company's Hong Kong site, which is not censored. Google explained its decision, stating:

Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced - it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision.

China quickly responded to Google's rerouting plans and has now begun blocking results from the Hong Kong website as well. China claims that Google did not uphold agreements [Xinhua report] the firm had made when it entered the Chinese market in 2006, and that the company "violated its written promise" when it ceased censoring Internet searches. Chinese Foreign Ministry [official website, in Chinese] spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu stated in a press conference that the dispute with Google will not affect relations [transcript, in Chinese] between the US and China "unless someone politicizes the issue."

In February, China issued new regulations tightening restrictions on Internet use [JURIST report] by requiring citizens operating websites to submit identity cards and meet with regulators before their sites can be registered. The new policies came amid negotiations with Google regarding the Internet company's January threat to discontinue operations in China [JURIST report] due to the country's overarching Internet censorship. Google's action was in response to a cyber attack on its Gmail service in December, which targeted the e-mail accounts of human rights activists in China and drew the ire of rights groups around the world. Google indicated that it would work with the Chinese government to find a way to allow an, "unfiltered search engine within the law as well," but also noted that if an agreement cannot be reached, it would close its offices there and shut down its Google.cn website. China responded [JURIST report] by reiterating its commitment to open Internet, but stressed that international Internet companies must follow Chinese law. A week later, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website] referenced the threat [JURIST report] by Google in a speech promoting Internet freedom and criticizing censorship, declaring that China "risk[s] walling themselves off from the progress of the next century." Zhaoxu criticized Clinton for her remarks stating that they were harmful to bilateral relations between the US and China.

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