Google's China exit: Not as much 'if' as it is 'when' or 'how'

It seems inevitable that Google will leave China - but doing so won't be an easy process
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

We've known for a few days now that Google's exit from China appears to be inevitable. Even though the company has said it was still engaged in talks with government officials, a hard-stance position by government officials on Google's proposed uncensoring of search results shows that Chinese authorities aren't willing to budge.

That, of course, leaves little choice for the Internet giant. But shutting down operations in a place like China is proving to be more complicated than just pulling a plug. A story in today's Wall Street Journal not only points out some of the loopholes that Google will have to endure for a clean exit but also makes note of the pleas being conveyed by Google partners in China who are worried about their own futures.

A letter from 27 advertising resellers in China to the head of Google's overseas sales team on Monday reportedly asked Google to try to find ways to work with the Chinese government. Recognizing that that ship has likely already sailed, the partners concerns have shifted to what happens to them when Google pulls out. The partners, according to the WSJ, say that their businesses are "facing operating pressure" due to the uncertainty surrounding Google's future in China and that many are facing bankruptcy.

Certainly, the partners are a concern - but so is the actual process of shutting down the company in China. The WSJ explains part of the complexity involved:

Google grapples with a slew of agencies that have a say over the Internet. These include the Ministry of Public Security, which deals with criminal activities on the Web, including political dissent; the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, responsible for broadcasting; and the Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party, which ensures that the media adheres to political orthodoxy. For "anything that has to do with the Internet, you could be facing as many as a half dozen ministries," said David Wolf, chief executive of Wolf Group Asia, a Beijing-based marketing strategy firm. And because Google is also taking this action in a "highly politicized environment and in a very public way," it is sure to have attracted the interest of China's State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Wolf said.

The report goes on to note that it gets even more complicated because of in-fighting among governmental agencies who have overlapping responsibilities and are battling to expand their clout. In addition, regulations are often times not written down or made public.  Cutting ties with China, it seems, will take some time - more time than anyone with a stake in the process may care to wait.

Also see: Special Report: Google, China showdown

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