One more from the Google-China mailbag

While waiting for a chance to write a "real" report, here is another useful dispatch. It is by Damien Ma and comes from a private newsletter put out today by the Eurasia Group. A few excerpts used with permission. Analysis generally parallels what I wrote earlier here: that the Chinese government is moving into a stage of feeling hyper-confident and, for that reason or others, likely to be involved in disagreements with the US and other outside powers. (This is what I referred to earlier as China's "Bush-Cheney" phase.) Brief commentary at the end. Ma writes (emphasis added):

"China's cyber attack on Google will highlight heightened cybersecurity concerns amidst escalating tensions with the US. The major risk for the bilateral relationship is that Beijing could lose an important support base in Washington as the US business community increasingly turns sour on it. Beijing almost certainly won't allow Google to operate an unfiltered search engine in China, which will amplify the issue in the next few weeks. This episode will also bring to the forefront Beijing's commitment to "innovation, Chinese style," which has meant increasing reliance on securing IP on the cheap through either theft or discriminatory industrial policies....

"China is unlikely to yield to Google's intentions to not censor its Chinese search engine. Beijing's immediate response has been guarded, however, reflecting the fact that it was thrown off balance by Google's announcement and is still grappling with how to manage the volatile situation...

"Google's high-profile move has the symbolic significance of making very public what has been private griping among foreign entities for years. Such griping could quickly become much more public and vocal, prompting the US business community, which drives US-China politics in Washington in many ways, to weaken their support for US-China trade and other issues...

"The path that China has taken in this realm is likely to encounter further resistance from US and global companies....  It also exacts significant reputational damage to the country as a whole. As China is attempting to increasingly leverage its "soft power" around the world, the image it is projecting at this point is more unsettling than soothing."

Brief comments:

- The emphasis on the Chinese government being "thrown off balance" by this news rings very true. A known strength of the Chinese style of leadership is getting big projects done in a hurry, like road building. A known weakness is decision making in time-sensitive, surprise-development, crisis management circumstances, like now.

- As I mentioned many times while living in China, I always noticed when the fire hose of state propaganda and angry Chinese "netizen" sentiment was turned against Japan (for any number of reasons) or France (over the Dalai Lama) or briefly Mexico (over the swine flu -- it's an odd story). As an American, I was relieved at those times that the fire hose was not being turned against the US. The hose is about to be turned in our direction.

- As an experienced friend in China wrote very recently, this whole situation can turn out either "win-win" or "lose-lose." The mutual win would be if the Chinese government could find a way to accommodate Google's new refusal to "filter" its searches any more (not to mention if it could stop the intrusions on Google's servers); that would allow Google to win by playing an ongoing part in China's development. The all-around loss would be if Google is frozen out in long term from what will eventually be the largest internet market, and if China suffers the various distortions that will come from balkanizing itself from the rest of the world's info flow. I think we'll have a sense soon of which way this is heading. So far the Chinese government has lain low -- see the "thrown off balance" point, above -- but we'll see whether both sides want to make this a louder disagreement or a softer one.

More tomorrow.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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