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Google, China and “Digital Combat”

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  • on January 26th, 2010

Today’s New York Times has a long and interesting piece by Markoff and others on US preparedness for cyberwar–In Digital Combat, U.S. Finds No Easy Deterrent. As usual anything by Markoff is a good read. I want to focus on several points in the article relating to Google ($GOOG) and China. I believe the points are detrimental to any attempts by Google to forge a compromise and remain in China, something I already believe is quite unlikely, as I wrote last week.

First is this quote:

“You have to be quite careful about attributions and accusations,” said a senior administration official deeply involved in dealing with the Chinese incident with Google.

No surprise that Google is dealing with the US government, but this admission will likely reinforce the Chinese government’s belief that Google works very closely with the US government in general and is a foreign force for malice within China’s Internet.

The second is this bit:

Inside the National Security Agency, which secretly scours overseas computer networks, officials have debated whether evidence of an imminent cyberattack on the United States would justify a pre-emptive American cyberattack — something the president would have to authorize。

Of course the NSA does this kind of stuff, but what exactly does “secretly scours overseas computer networks” mean? And if you are a Chinese security official, what do you think it means, especially now with all the cyber attack rhetoric flying between China and the US? And as a sovereign nation and major power nation wouldn’t you think you too should be scouring overseas computer networks?

The third point is from the last two paragraphs of the article:

That is what makes the Google-China standoff so fascinating. Google broke the silence that usually surrounds cyberattacks; most American banks or companies do not want to admit their computer systems were pierced. Google has said it will stop censoring searches conducted by Chinese, even if that means being thrown out of China. The threat alone is an attempt at deterrence: Google’s executives are essentially betting that Beijing will back down, lift censorship of searches and crack down on the torrent of cyberattacks that pour out of China every day. If not, millions of young Chinese will be deprived of the Google search engine, and be left to the ones controlled by the Chinese government.

An Obama administration official who has been dealing with the Chinese mused recently, “You could argue that Google came up with a potential deterrent for the Chinese before we did.”

The arrogance and naivete in these two paragraphs is striking. Arrogance in the belief that the withdrawal of Google.cn means “deprivation” for millions of Chinese youth (killing World of Warcraft would be “deprivation”, per this film), and naivete in the belief that the Chinese government and the Communist Party (CCP) would be deterred in any way by a Google departure. It would be laughable but for the fact that these are serious journalists and an influential administration official, and they buy into this misreading of Beijing and regurgitate it without question.

Wake up, China does not need Google. While some elements within the Chinese government do not want to see Google leave, and Google’s departure will have costs for China, I believe other elements, especially within the powerful security services, will be more than happy to see them go. In fact, they would probably very much prefer that those millions of young Chinese only use search engines, like Baidu ($BIDU), that are effectively “controlled by the Chinese government”.

Let’s look again at what Meng Jianzhu, the Minister of Public Security, said in “Seeking Truth” in December:

The Internet has become a primary method for the anti-China forces to infiltrate us and amplify destructive energy. This provides new challenges in maintaining state security and social stability for the Public Security agencies.

I know that sounds paranoid and frankly strange to most Americans, but this is not just rhetoric; Mr. Meng believes what he says, and acts on his beliefs.

There is more discussion of the CCP worldview in another article also in today’s New York Times, by Michael Wines:

From blocking or closing down thousands of blogs and social-networking sites to accusing the United States of seeking information hegemony, the government has made it clear that the control of information has become even more of a central priority than in years past, according to David Bandurski, an analyst and author at the Hong Kong-based China Media Project, who spoke in a telephone interview on Monday.

“The CCP media worldview is that you have China versus a hostile West in this global war for public opinion,” he said, referring to the China Communist Party.

Good luck Google, but you may have badly misplayed your hand, assuming your intention really is to stay in China.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.

The information in this blog post represents my own opinions and does not contain a recommendation for any particular security or investment. I or my affiliates may hold positions or other interests in securities mentioned in the Blog, please see my Disclaimer page for my full disclaimer.

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