Chinese media reports say U.S. Internet giant Google will close its business in China after complaints of censorship and cyber-attacks. The reports say the announcement could come as early as next week, although Google is refusing all comment.
In January, Google unexpectedly said that it is prepared to pull out of China because of cyber-attacks and concerns over government censorship.
On Friday, the China Business News, one of the country's top economic papers, quoted an unnamed official with a Google-affiliated agency as saying he has learned that Google will leave China next month.
Google executives had no comment on the reports. But Courtney Hohne, a spokeswoman for the company, last week said the company remained firm in its resolve not to filter its content, which is required by Chinese law.
"We have been very clear that we are no longer going to self-censor our search results," said Courtney Hohne. "We are indeed in active discussions with the Chinese government, but we are not going to engage in a running commentary about those conversations."
Longtime China business analyst Jim McGregor, who is with public relations firm APCO Worldwide, says a pullout would not surprise him.
"Nobody really knows about the timing because this is speculation by a couple of media outlets, but it does seem inevitable that they will pull out with their specially censored Chinese search engine because Google has announced that they're not censoring it anymore and the government here has announced that they cannot accept an uncensored search engine," said Jim McGregor. "So, it's just a matter of when, not if."
McGregor says he believes the Google issue is more ideological than commercial. But he says the high profile of the dispute has drawn attention to what he describes as a "deteriorating business situation" for foreign companies in China.
"There's been a lot of media and a lot of unhappiness demonstrated by foreign biz [business] here in the last few months, and the Chinese government is now paying attention to it," he said. "The Ministry of Commerce is calling in businessmen to talk to them, and you also have [Premier] Wen Jiabao at his press conference saying, 'Hey, I haven't met with foreign businessmen hardly in the last three years. I'm going to start doing it again.'"
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang this week said he hopes that if Google does leave, it will have little effect on overall business sentiment.
Qin called the Google decision the "individual act of one company," and said it will not affect China's investment environment.
He said while many foreign companies make profits in China, they must respect all of the country's laws.