Chinese regulators renewed a vital Google business license earlier this week, despite the fact that the search giant is no longer filtering Chinese-language search results, according to the Wall Street Journal.
These "Internet Content Provider" business licenses are the main way that China keeps tabs on web service companies like Google or native rival Baidu Inc., especially when those companies are based overseas. Without that license, it's illegal to operate a website in China, according to the WSJ.
You probably remember that Google and China got into what could charitably called a "disagreement," after the search giant went public with claims that Chinese authorities had cracked the Gmail accounts of dissidents and human rights activists. After that, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Google would abandon the Chinese market, leaving behind the most populous nation in the world.
Instead, Google rerouted Google.cn to servers located in Hong Kong, and stopped filtering search results - technically, a breach of Chinese compliance regulations. But that workaround comes with many caveats, including the fact that the Chinese government still censors search results for users inside the country, and access to services like Gmail has apparently been spotty, costing Google some market share and traffic.
And in the summer of 2011, Google again went public with allegations against China, claiming that ahacking assault against hundreds of Gmail accounts, including mailboxes belonging to US and South Korean officials, originated within the country's borders. The Chinese government denied all involvement, and matters got heated.
Despite all of that bad blood, Google (or more specifically, a local Chinese partner, since foreign companies aren't allowed to get these licenses directly) has been given the go-ahead to operate for another year, workarounds, lack of filtering, and all.
China isn't exactly known for its openness, and I wonder if we'll ever fully understand the reasoning for allowing Google China to stay in business. But on the whole, I doubt China wants to risk the economic or political effects of kicking out a company of Google's stature.