Google takes the China mountain by strategy

Google is one company against a state that controls the lives of billions. Yet it will prevail.

A Chinese myth relates that there was a village cut off from the world by two large mountains. An old man in the village grew tired of the isolation and decided to move the mountains by chipping away at them, stone by stone.

The villagers laughed, but the old man recruited more and more of his family. A god, seeing that the project would pass down the generations until it was complete, decided to move the mountains completely — otherwise, the god knew, they would be destroyed.

By moving to Hong Kong while holding its ground, Google is chipping away at the mountain of censorship and control by which the Chinese people are isolated. It's a bold move — one that will hurt the company — and many people are happy to say that it's foolish.

It won't be, when others decide to join Google. They may have to: part of Google's complaint is that the company came under attack from the Chinese state, which also controls the country's network infrastructure. Under such conditions it is hard for any company to demonstrate Western standards of security and compliance, and regulators and shareholders alike should be asking hard questions of those which choose to remain.

And it will be hard to remain. The Chinese government is always keen to impose China-first policies, and not just over censorship. Government approval for products is restricted to those containing intellectual property wholly owned by a Chinese company and registered in China first. Wireless technology must follow state-decreed standards before following those decided by the rest of the world. Disagreement is not tolerated and is presented as a political attack.

This is no way to compete and, most certainly, no way to lead.

The Chinese state must realise some key facts. All of the technology on which it is operates has come from the free exchange of ideas. An isolationist state — the logical consequence of their stance — has no place in the modern, connected world. Instead, Chinese science, engineering and commerce will be beholden to the West as they were during the country's last great isolationist era.

However long it takes, the result is not in doubt. The mountain will no longer confound the people. The Chinese government must decide whether to move it, or watch as it is destroyed.

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