I think it’s a bigger game that China is playing.
Google’s overnight exit from China proper and face-saving move to Hong Kong may not be so much about Google’s desire to protect free speech, or China’s claim of the sovereign right to limit it, but about China’s love of money. And need to dominate, and control. And don’t forget its absolute belief, by virtue of its gargantuan population, economic growth rate, and remarkable moxie, that it should own the future.
If you were China, or any other market large enough to be dreaming of your historic destiny, what would you do about Google?
There isn’t any other company which so symbolizes control over the future than Google. More rankling, Google symbolizes American control over the future. Only a bit reductively, if you let Google become your nation’s (or you market’s) fundamental Internet platform, you’ve enfranchised another epoch of American economic and cultural dominance. That’s a tough nut to swallow if you believe your market is going to be the economic engine of the century.
But it’s not so easy to push back. The world’s major markets have the will to impede and diminish US hegemony, but, especially in the network sphere, nowhere near the talent or the quickness. How far ahead are we in techno sense and sensibility? Ten years? A generation?
Collectively these major markets may not have a clue, but every major market population is, curiously, ready to adopt and use that American-led and American-made techno sense and sensibility. It really must seem like a terrible fate. Once again, the damn Americans.
The Italians, in a ham-handed, inarticulate, flailing way, have even convicted Google executives on criminal counts of…well, it’s not exactly clear what they were convicted of, except some offense against old-time sense and sensibility.
These markets, ready to exercise their clout—China, in so many ways, in so many areas of the world economic order, already an effective bully—find themselves without much leverage in the one area that will likely determine everything.
The censorship rules that China has imposed and that Google has resisted are a bit of a convenient canard. A nice triangulation. Pushed on them, Google has to stiffen its resolve, and, as it did last night, beat an honorable retreat.
Meanwhile, China buys some time to figure out how it too can develop some new, cool, sense and sensibility, however distasteful.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.