Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Don't Be Evil" ( If it's bad business)

Gotta love Google's new stance in China. After a few years of being criticized for looking the other way with regard to censorship and human rights abuses in order to "open" up a Google market in China, Sergei and the boys are now threatening to pull out of China entirely after learning of Gmail hacking and strong-handed government tactics bent on uncovering the identities of dissidents and human rights activists.

It's fairly clear that Google's corporate mantra of "don't be evil" was probably applied after more of a cost/benefit analysis than an actual human soul-search. Shareholder complaints combined with the fact that was not that profitable to begin with undoubtedly made the lights go on in Google's mind that they could get more mileage and credibility through moral grandstanding than by sitting around and continuously waiting for some elusive and mythical "massive Chinese market potential" to appear.

Yet, the move has real promise and could signal a change in how the world views China. For the last two decades, every greedy Western business has spoken in hushed tones about China's potential and how easily they are offended if one mentions small trivial things like:

-Lead Tainted Toys
-Counter-intuitive government intervention in private business
-Strict currency manipulation designed for Chinese advantages against open market societies
-Poisonous dry-wall products
-Poisonous milk products
-Poisonous anti-coagulation medicines
-The complete murder and decimation of fully 1/6 of all Tibetans and Tibetan culture.
-The complete murder and imprisonment of Uighur society.
-The shrill condemnation and interference in any activity by any country deemed "anti-China"
-The imprisonment and murder of a British citizen for drug trafficking.
-The support of despotic regimes in Burma and North Korea.

Yet, we only have our greedy, hegemonic Western arrogance to blame. We blithely think that China is an "emerging" democracy and will eventually see things our way. Bunk. Martin Jacques in his new book When China Rules the World makes a strong case for the ideas that many of us have known for years: China plays along with the rest of the world for the ultimate benefit of China. China doesn't want to be part of the world, they eventually want the world to be part of China. And, China will always use their "market potential" as a decoy and a shield to hide their barbaric human rights and economic practices.

Google, ultimate motivations aside and to their credit, is the first major corporation to say enough is enough. For that we must applaud them and hope they are the spear tip of a much larger change in world perception of China. Perhaps it has already begun. Duncan Clark, a Beijing consultant, notes these shifting winds: "People (in the Chinese government) here think no-one can do without China, and I think now some companies are thinking no-one can deal with China.."