Google, seemingly torn between Chinese censorship and Chinese opportunity, is now "99.9 percent" certain that it will shut down its Chinese search engine, Google.cn.
According to a Financial Times source "familiar with the company's thinking," the search giant, having reached an apparent impasse with the Chinese government officials, has drafted detailed plans to close the Chinese search business, though it remains optimistic about finding a way to maintain its overall operations in China.
For Google--which, amid an investigation into alleged Chinese hacking of prominent U.S. Web properties, expressed in January that it no longer intends to run a censored search engine in China--staying in China after shuttering Google.cn could involve enabling its Chinese sales, software development, and research operations to remain intact.
Throughout the first quarter of 2010, it has appeared very unlikely that the Chinese government would revise its Internet censorship laws for Google--or any other company wishing to operate in China, for that matter. Its public message--that these companies are subject to Chinese law, regardless of their internal ethical codes--has not wavered.
"If [Google] takes steps that violate Chinese laws, that would be unfriendly, that would be irresponsible, they would have to bear the consequences," Li Yizhong, China's minister for industry and information technology, said Friday, according to the Financial Times report.
Despite those stern words, Li encouraged Google, which he said has "taken 30 percent of the Chinese search market," to continue its operations in the country, employing its people. To Google, he said, "If you don't leave, China will welcome that; if you don't leave, it will be beneficial for the development of the Internet in China."