MOSCOW. (Dmitry Kosyrev, RIA Novosti political commentator) - It is hard to tell how many drafts it took to finalize the speech on the Internet's role in a global world, to be delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday night. She probably also wished to God she could stay away from this issue, which has unexpectedly become sensitive for the United States.
The reason is the rapidly unwinding "Google case" in China. It all began with the largest global search engine's threat to leave the Chinese market after a cyber attack by some hackers on gmail, the company's email service. Google implied the attack came from China's special services, which tried to read dissidents' emails. Google complained to the U.S. government.
It all looked simple at the beginning. However, with time it became clear that one of the largest and most important U.S. companies had dragged the country into a very ugly tangle. What's worse, the Chinese authorities, which at first failed to understand what was wrong at all, have eventually grasped the essence and are launching a counteroffensive. To have to fight back Chinese diplomacy is the last thing the Barack Obama Administration needs at the moment, as that diplomacy is known to be meticulous, picky and vindictive, and determined to get what it is after.
On Thursday, two Google China senior executives, Boon-Lock Yeo and Liu Yun, posted a statement in the company's blog that the office was not closing down and that everyone was in and working. As for Beijing's official policy, the Google case should by no means be interpreted as part of U.S.-China relations, China's deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei said on Thursday. If anyone has a problem, it should be resolved in accordance with law.
Yafei's statement correlated well with the policies of the U.S. Department of State: Kurt M. Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, declined to comment earlier this week on whether the U.S. government would send an official protest to Beijing. He only repeated that the United States had asked China for an explanation.
U.S. media certainly edited their diplomat's language, automatically changing "asking" for "demanding" - a habit that dates back to older times. The United States is not "demanding" anything. It is China that sounds resolved but reserved for the time being.
Media analysts remind their audiences of certain tensions that arose in U.S.-China relations at the turn of the year over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and Barack Obama's plans to meet with the Dalai Lama.
Earlier, similar problems with France resulted in a six-month freeze in French-Chinese relations, and France didn't like that at all. However, if Obama again refuses to see Dalai Lama, what will his voters say?
American mass media do not carry much information on China's habitual protests over Taiwan and Tibet; but the Google case has made all the headlines. U.S.- Chinese disagreements mainly have economic reasons, as the U.S. authorities are trying to restrict Chinese imports. But their hands are tied.
Something interesting happened on Thursday morning. Prior to that, China published its 2009 economic results, posting 16.9% retail sales rise, 11% industrial growth, 8.7% GDP increase, and a 30% growth in investment. The Chinese government must have thought that was too fast and jammed on the brakes by tightening conditions of bank loans.
The news from China sent Dow Jones down 1.14%, and Nasdaq down 1.26%., showing that tensions with China could backfire.
With regard to the notorious Google case, it is getting clearer now. The company, which apparently has managerial problems in China, has tried to disguise them as moral or ethical problems. They tried to resolve these problems by appealing to the part of American society that still thinks it is living in the last millennium (or the George W. Bush era) and still believes that America can dictate standards and preach morals.
The result proved the opposite. With access to the Internet, it takes almost no time, even without being able to read Chinese, to browse Chinese sites and see what the 400 million local users write to each other and the world online.
Moreover, the Google story is especially interesting because as a result, the world has turned its attention to these people, who represent one-third of the Chinese population, and probably the best part of it. Many of them were educated in the United States or in Singapore. They can communicate in several languages. And they are engaged in a very heated and detailed debate on the Google case.
Their discussion seems intelligent and funny compared with the rigid official language for some reason preferred by the U.S. Internet users debating the same problem. Chinese Internet users are showing bright and original humor and a good grasp of the local business situation, as well as strong materialistic approach to assessment. For example, they immediately grasped the essence and announced how much was at stake in the Google case: $300 million, or the search engine's annual earnings in China.
But is this figure correct? Can 400 million Internet users be mistaken? What if they can't agree among themselves?
It also emerged that Google had been strongly competing with Microsoft in China, especially poaching its personnel, as well as with the local leading search engine, Baidu Inc., and not as successfully as it wanted to admit.
Google's share of the Chinese market seems to grow only when one adds up total hits on Google.cn with Google.com, as the latter is growing in popularity. The latest cyber attack scandal, according to local users, amazingly coincided with the earlier "poached" managers' "flight" to more successful local companies.
In addition, Chinese Internet users said that E-bay, Yahoo and other global companies have also failed on the local market. This has nothing to do with online censorship, as it is certainly the same for all, and has been weakening ever since Google's advent to the Chinese market.
In any case, the Google case is only the second top priority in China now, after 101 major Chinese websites issued a joint statement to abide by copyright laws from now on and forever. This sparked a copyright discussion online.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.