Posts Tagged ‘1989 Tiananmen Square massacre’

Google’s Sergey Brin Laments “Lost Decade” In China

August 18, 2018

Mozilla, another progressive U.S. internet player, ceded moral high ground to stay in China

Sundar Pichai, left, speaks while Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, listens during a press conference at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, California, in 2011. Photographer: David Paul Morris

Google executives admitted for the first time this week that they’re looking to get their search engine up and running in China after a hiatus of almost a decade.

At the company’s weekly all-staff meeting, the project was discussed by co-founder Sergey Brin — the very executive most closely associated with the decision in 2010 to pull out of China. It was a widely lauded move by Google managers, led by Brin, who argued that they’d rather leave than subject their search tool to China’s stringent rules that filter out politically sensitive results, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

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The change of heart is also the clearest sign yet that some Googlers view the pullout as a costly miscalculation. That’s locked the company out of what is now the largest internet market, where hundreds of millions of people use homegrown services from Baidu Inc., Tencent Holdings Ltd., Meituan Dianping and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to search, communicate, order food and shop online.

Other U.S. technology companies stayed in China and have tried to influence the government from the inside, rather than disengaging. Apple Inc., one of the few U.S. tech giants with a thriving Chinese business, is now worth $1 trillion – a crown Google parent Alphabet Inc. might have captured first if it had an equivalent operation in the world’s most populous country. Mozilla, a progressive organization that’s no fan of censorship, has operated a version of its Firefox browser in China for more than a decade, preferring to adapt its approach rather than leave.

Priyendra Deshwal, a software engineer who worked on Google search projects from 2007 to 2012, said there was internal debate about the decision in 2010.  He recalled a meeting where co-founders Larry Page and Brin answered employee questions about China, with Brin taking the lead. It wasn’t obvious to rank-and-file Googlers that the company should give up on the country.

“We could see both sides of the coin,” Deshwal said. “There was debate in the sense of it being a very big business opportunity lost, but also an example of the company standing by its principles.”

Page and Brin presented the move as a clear example of Google’s “don’t be evil” motto, Deshwal added. “At that time, the company made the decision based on principles and not wanting to operate where it didn’t agree with the way the country was run.”

Google’s top management committee decided to pull out of China based on a black-and-white view of censorship at the time, according to a former executive. The business implications of leaving were considered, but limiting the flow of information online in any way was considered bad and Google’s involvement in such activities could have damaged its brand in the rest of the world, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing internal company deliberations.

Now, the business case for engaging with China has grown, while the issue of censorship online has become more nuanced, according to the person. Germany has strong anti-hate speech rules, Thailand limits what can be said about its royal family online, and Europe has a right-to-be-forgotten law that lets people ask Google to remove old information about them from search results. To free-speech purists, these are also undesirable forms of online censorship, the person noted.

Google also has a different leader these days, Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, with fewer qualms on the topic. After recent reports that Google is developing a censored search service for China, Pichai confirmed to employees Thursday that the company is considering the controversial project, framing the effort as “exploratory” and in “early stages.”

Google’s new China effort, code-named Dragonfly, was kept secret from most employees until recent reports, and the revelation has sparked a firestorm inside the company.  About 1,400 employees signed a letter protesting the move, saying it compromises the company’s values.

At Thursday’s meeting, Pichai argued that depriving Chinese people of access to Google products wouldn’t help. “I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world and I don’t see any reason why that would be different in China,” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting provided to Bloomberg.

Brin, who had driven the exodus in 2010, told the Wall Street Journal at the time that China’s policies of censorship and surveillance shared the “same earmarks of totalitarianism” as Soviet Russia, where he was born. On Thursday, he was more equivocal. He told employees in a rambling  explanation that questions about projects in China come up “every year or so” and “we experiment with what it might look like.” “There’s a handful of things we have been able to ship in China and that’s great,” he said. “You know, it’s slow-going and complicated.”

In 2017, a Chinese lawmaker said Google Scholar, a tool for searching academic publications online, was on a priority list of services the government wanted to bring back to the country. On Thursday, Brin cited that product as an example of the company’s efforts to get back into China – and compromises that come with that. Providing search for Google Scholar in China “would have a certain set of trade-offs be it for working with a partner to provide a certain kind of look and certain caveats,” he said.

Google’s China efforts may be less controversial inside the company than recent work with the Pentagon. Earlier this year, workers revolted over Project Maven, a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to use artificial intelligence to analyze military drone footage. Far more employees spoke out against Project Maven than the number who oppose Dragonfly.

Some Googlers have expressed support for Dragonfly on internal message boards. Google has a mission of organizing the world’s information, and it shouldn’t exclude a fifth of the planet, one person wrote in a post viewed by Bloomberg News. Another said that boycotting the country was not an effective way to influence the Chinese government or “bring any positive change.”

Google’s decision to leave China contrasts with internet rival Mozilla. It has maintained a presence in the country for well over a decade and its Firefox browser partners with Chinese search engines that censor results for the government. Mozilla’s Chinese operation is run separately from the rest of the organization and it has distributed software tools online in China that aren’t open source, which made some engineers uncomfortable, according to Andreas Gal, a former Mozilla executive.

“I don’t remember any time it rose to the point where we considered leaving China,” Gal said. “There was certainly a degree of backing off from some of your moral high ground in order to operate in China.”

Even if Google pushes ahead in the face of employee complaints, there’s no guarantee the Chinese government will let it come back to the mainland in a major way.

Deshwal said he’s skeptical that Google can make a popular Chinese search service now. “I don’t see how magically they get major search market share,” he said. “I’d probably bet against the company in that respect. Baidu is so dominant in that market in search.”

Wesley Chan, a former Google Ventures partner and product leader who left in 2014, said the search giant made the right call in 2010. “There was lots of pressure to leave and Google did get hacked,” he added. “It’s hard to do business in a country where elements of the government are attacking you.”


China paper “Global Times” says rise of ‘racist’ Trump shows democracy is scary — Global Times seems enthusiastic about lesbians and Hillary Clinton

May 12, 2016

The Washington Post

March 14, 2016

Mussolini and Hitler came to power through elections, China’s Global Times reminded readers Monday. Now an “abusively racist and extremist” candidate is on the rise in the United States, it says. Maybe democracy isn’t such a good idea after all.

In an editorial Monday, China’s state-owned Global Times newspaper used Donald Trump’s rise to gloat about the fault lines in U.S. society and to argue that democracy was both a waste of time — and downright scary.

From the rise of a “narcissistic and inflammatory candidate” to the violence that surrounded his planned rally in Chicago, the paper said it was shocking this could happen in a country that “boasts one of the most developed and mature democratic election systems” in the world.

Fistfights between supporters of rival parties might be common in developing countries during election season, it wrote, but in the United States?

Trump, it said, has opened a Pandora’s box.


The candidate’s supporters, it noted, are mostly lower-class whites who lost a lot after the 2008 financial crisis. “The U.S. used to have the largest and most stable middle class in the Western world, but many are going down.”

Unwritten, but implied: The argument that China survived that financial crisis in much better shape, and its middle-class is rising.

Ignored: The argument that trade with China after it entered the World Trade Organization caused manufacturing jobs to hemorrhage from middle America, and the fact that China is still grappling with the delayed aftershock from the financial crisis, as its economy struggles under a growing mountain of debt.

But, back to the point-scoring.

Then, the paper described the emergence of Trump, “big-mouthed” and the “perfect populist” to provoke the public.

“Despite candidates’ promises, Americans know elections cannot really change their lives. Then, why not support Trump and vent their spleen?”

The second big takeaway of the article: Democracy doesn’t get you anywhere anyway, so why bother?

The paper went on to argue that this election did raise some serious issues about America’s decline and hypocrisy. After noting the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, it said that most analysts believe the U.S. election system will prevent Trump from winning, so that “the process will be scary but not dangerous.”
But even if Trump is a false alarm, his rise has “left a dent” and left the United States facing “the prospect of an institutional failure.”

The inherent instability of the democratic system is classic Communist Party propaganda and an argument that resonates with many people here: Indeed, it is one of the pillars of the party’s legitimacy in many people’s eyes.

Democracy is a mess – just look at India – and sometimes violent – viz. the Arab Spring. China’s history before the Communist Party came to power was equally messy. Only strong, purposeful and benevolent one-party rule can guarantee stability.

Of course, there are a couple of glaring lacunae in that argument: The most obvious being the tyranny and mass insanity unleashed by Mao Zedong, who killed tens of millions of his own people, (as indeed Stalin did in the Soviet Union). But hey, that bit of history is officially glossed over here.

The paper may have a point in that the rise of Trump — as well as that of Bernie Sanders — is arguably a reaction to the capture of American politics by big business and lobbyists, and the failure of globalization to deliver economic benefits to the middle class.

But it also ignores the fact that democratic “reactions” can often offer a (long and winding) path to democratic solutions, while dictatorships almost always end in chaos.

But back to the Global Times.

Finally, then, the paper had this message for the United States.

“The U.S. had better watch itself for not being a source of destructive forces against world peace, more than pointing fingers at other countries for their supposed nationalism and tyranny.”

U.S. hypocrisy: It’s an argument that was also aired in a 45-minute documentary Sunday on party-controlled China Central Television. The Xinhua news agency said the program revealed the U.S. “double standards on human rights-related issues, whereby the U.S. pokes its nose into other countries’ internal affairs while leaving many of its own problems unsolved.” Quartz called it part of China’s escalating criticism of the United States. Last week, it noted, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations declared the United States too violent and racist to criticize others on human rights.

If you want to see how CCTV looks at the United States, the documentary has been posted to YouTube, with subtitles.

China seemed to have had an ambivalent reaction to Trump’s rise, from the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman who reported her country’s “bemused” interest in the campaign to nationalist netizens unsure whether to celebrate his authoritarian streak or exult in America’s perceived decline.

Donald Trump says Chinese people love him. Is he right?

Ironically, there is one group of Chinese who have united in their condemnation of Trump, if for very different reasons from the Global Times: The survivors of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

On Friday’s Republican debate, Trump appeared to endorse what he called a “strong” response from the Chinese government in putting down pro-democracy protests there. He described the Tiananmen Square protests as a “riot.”

Trump just called Tiananmen Square a ‘riot.’ The Communist Party will be pleased.
Since then, survivors and exiled rights groups have lined up to condemn him for supporting tyranny and to demand that he apologize.

Trump, wrote former Tiananmen protest leader Wu’er Kaixi on his Facebook page, “is an enemy of the values that America deeply defines itself by: The same values that have long provided hope to the victims of oppressive power worldwide.”

“Those of us who have fought for freedom anywhere in the world worry that something is about to change in America.”


In the wake of its apparent aversion to virgins – as expressed in its recent article “Never Sleep With a Virgin”, China’s nationalist newspaper, the Global Times, seems enthusiastic about lesbians – at least when former US secretary Hillary Clinton is suspected of being one.

On Friday, the International Day Against Homophobia, the tabloid daily published a story entitled “Hillary’s new book will tell shocking stories – bisexuality topping her list”

The report quoted the US supermarket tabloid National Enquirer as its single source – declaring: “Hillary will finally admit the truth about her sexuality.”

Admitting the US tabloid isn’t known for its credibility, the Global Times defended its source by praising its efforts in revealing the extramarital affair of former US senator John Edwards.

The Clinton story was quickly picked up the Xinhua News Agency hours later-word for word – listing “bisexuality ” and “Hillary” as the story’s keywords.

According to a report by the Washington Post, Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, which is expected to be published in 2014, will discuss her career as secretary of state.

She will also write “vivid personal anecdotes” and discuss her relationship with Obama and his national security team, the Post reported.

China’s state media has a tendency to be fooled by fake reports by foreign newspapers. The online version of China’s Communist Party newspaper, People’s Daily, believed a satirical report by The Onion naming North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as the “Sexiest Man Alive” last year. It ran a 55-page photo spread of the North Korean leader. The post was later deleted after the newspaper realised the story was fake.



Tiananmen redux: Hong Kong is primed to explode

October 5, 2014


Police escort an injured man away from a confrontation between pro-democracy student protesters and angry local residents in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)


Perhaps it’s Xi Jinping’s bull-like intransigence, his disdain for those with other views and aspirations, that drives the Chinese leader’s opponents to extreme positions — even violence.

The crisis in Hong Kong will not end well — and it’s only the latest in a cascade of problems facing the Chinese leadership that have degenerated from manageable disagreements to shouting matches — and worse — since Xi came to power nearly two years ago.

At home and abroad, Xi has shown time and again that, when confronted, his instinct is to reach for the nearest blunt instrument. He has overseen a campaign of suppression and imprisonment unrivalled — save for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre — since Mao Zedong’s death in 1976.

His push-back has been even more intense against the Muslim Uighurs of north-western Xinjiang province, who are resorting to terrorism in defence against Beijing’s cultural genocide. Harsh suppression in Xinjiang has spawned terrorist attacks by Uighurs across China and draconian actions against even moderate advocates of minority rights. A week ago, moderate Uighur scholar Ilham Tohiti was sentenced to life in prison for running a website which his supporters said advocated dialogue over the group’s grievances — but which Beijing said promoted separatism.

Abroad, Xi’s use of China’s burgeoning armed forces to back largely spurious claims to ownership of clusters of islands and vast associated maritime zones in the East China and South China seas has led to dangerous and unpredictable confrontations with the Japanese, Vietnamese and Philippine militaries.

In Taiwan, mounting pressure on the Taipei government to prepare the ground for China’s takeover of the independent nation of 23 million has sparked sometimes violent reactions among the island’s nationalists. In March, protestors occupied Taiwan’s parliament to block passage of a bill which would have given China even more access to the island’s economy than it already has under the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou, who often acts more like Beijing’s quisling than the elected representative of Taiwan’s people.

Everyone who has experienced Xi’s wrath is closely watching the drama in Hong Kong. It’s a test of whether Xi has any instinct for compromise and reconciliation — or if he believes there’s no argument he can’t win with truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Pressure has been building for years in Hong Kong as it became increasingly apparent that Beijing has no intention of living up to the promise it made before 1997 — to speedily introduce democracy and allow Hongkongers to rule their own city “with a high degree of autonomy.”

Outrage hit the boiling point in late August, when Beijing announced that, while Hong Kong’s chief executive will indeed be elected by universal adult suffrage in 2017, candidates for the top job will first be vetted for their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

Students and their supporters in their tens of thousands took to the streets and occupied three or four districts of Hong Kong last weekend, demanding that the sham election plan be junked and, for good measure, the current chief executive, C. Y. Leung, resign immediately.

Leung has bungled this crisis. First, authorities overreacted to what was an almost entirely peaceful protest by sending in riot squads to douse demonstrators with tear gas and pepper spray. As Leung and Beijing dug in their heels, refusing to consider any revision of the 2017 election plan, demonstrators have been making moves to occupy government buildings.

Now it appears Beijing’s supporters are trying to end the protests themselves — or else create so much chaos the public will back strong police actions. Thugs reportedly linked to the Triad criminal gangs attacked demonstrators in Mong Kok. This tactic — using Triad gangsters as violent catspaws — has been used widely in China since Xi came to power. Up to now, however, the Triad thugs have restricted themselves to attacking troublesome journalists with meat cleavers.

With the world watching events in Hong Kong closely, Xi undoubtedly feels he must win at any cost — that any compromise would be interpreted as weakness. And he has good reasons to fear being seen as weak. Largely through an anti-corruption campaign aimed at his rivals within the Communist Party, Xi has amassed more personal power than any Chinese leader since Mao. He has no shortage of enemies.

Xi’s censors have been working overtime to keep the news from Hong Kong from leaking to mainland China, but there’s only so much they can do. Full censorship is impossible now, with social media exploiting the cracks in the “the Great Firewall of China.”

China is changing. Strikes and street demonstrations against abusive, corrupt business managers and local officials are the daily norm now. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences used to publish annual reports on the number of “mass incidents” involving 1,000 or more protesters to which the authorities responded with riot squads or the People’s Armed Police. The Academy stopped publishing those figures in 2011 when the total reached 180,000 — a average of nearly 500 a day.

But the numbers still get collected, and my sources say they remain about the same. The only thing that’s changed since Xi came to power is that authorities are far more eager to lock up labour leaders, anti-corruption activists and environmentalists, and the lawyers who have the temerity to represent them.


Jonathan Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. He was European bureau chief for the Toronto Star and then Southam News in the late 1970s and the 1980s. In 1989 he was appointed Africa correspondent by Southam News and in 1993 was posted to Hong Kong to cover Asia. For the last few years he has been based in Vancouver, writing international affairs columns for what is now the Postmedia Group. He left the group last year and now writes for a range of newspapers and websites.

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