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China blocks Google’s HK site

Beijing, March 23: The Chinese government moved today to restrict access of mainland users to Google’s uncensored website in Hong Kong.

Google had hoped that the Hong Kong site would allow it to keep its pledge to end censorship while retaining a share of China’s fast-growing Internet search market.

However, mainland Chinese users today could not see uncensored Hong Kong content because government computers either blocked the content or filtered links to searches for objectionable content.

The company’s remaining mainland operations also came under pressure from its Chinese partners and from the government itself.

Beijing officials were clearly angered by Google’s decision, which focused global attention on the government’s censorship policies and there were signs of possible escalation in the dispute.

China’s biggest cellular communications company, China Mobile, was expected to cancel a deal that had placed Google’s search engine on its mobile Internet home page, used by millions of people daily. In interviews, business executives close to industry officials said the company was planning to scrap the deal under government pressure, despite the fact that China Mobile has yet to find a placement.

Similarly, China’s second-largest mobile company, China Unicom, was said by analysts and others to have delayed or killed the imminent introduction of a mobile phone based on Google’s Android platform.

Technology analysts and business executives, who demanded anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that Google might also face problems in keeping its advertising sales force, which is crucial to the success of its Chinese language service.

Several held out the prospect that the government could shut down the company’s Chinese search service entirely by blocking access to Google’s mainland address, google.cn, or to its Hong Kong website.

As of today, users who go to google.cn are automatically being sent to the Hong Kong address, google.com.hk.

“It’s going to boil down to whether authorities feel it is acceptable for users to be redirected to that site without having to figure it out themselves,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting.

At the same time, Natkin said that the government might still be wary of agitating loyal Google users in China, who tend to be highly educated and vocal. “To block Google entirely is not necessarily a desirable outcome for the government,” he said.

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