Google's public rebuke of the Chinese government could be the beginning of the end of a corporate love story. Like many affairs of the heart, this coupling required the worst of the other to be overlooked in favour of their best features. The tale of western economic engagement with China has been one of turning the other cheek, looking past human-rights violations and broad government repression, and focusing instead on the good news of huge potential profits and a growing middle class.
And much good news there was. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have entered the middle class and now live with more dignity and opportunity than could have been imagined by previous generations. The country has risen to superpower status remarkably peacefully, and still keeps its biggest foreign policy sticks carefully concealed. But authoritarianism can only be embraced up to a point and the concept of enlightened dictatorship exists primarily in our imagination.
A state that cannot trust its citizens to speak their minds or read from the world's accumulated knowledge will never be a place where the Googles of this world will feel truly at home. Now Google, whose claim to do no evil suffered its greatest blow when it embraced Chinese state censorship in 2006, appears to have reached the end of the road. Concepts of openness, empowerment and access to information form part of the company's DNA, meaning it has reached this point faster than most. But others will eventually arrive.
In public distancing from a repressive regime, Google has made others in its industry seem all the more guilty by association, and will likely lead to more internet companies issuing ultimatums of their own. That time cannot come soon enough. @Email:email@example.com