Google’s India-born CEO Sundar Pichai made a strong case for the search giant’s return to China, saying at the World Internet Conference that it is already helping Chinese companies gain global access. Google was shut down in China in 2010 following a showdown with the government over censor policies. Since then Google, Gmail, Youtube and its other products are banned in the world’s second largest economy.
“A lot of work Google does is to help Chinese companies”, the 45-year-old Google CEO, who has a BTech degree from IIT Kharagpur, said at a state-run global internet conference at the Chinese city of Wuzen. The conference was also addressed by Apple CEO Tim Cook and Chinese President Xi Jinping. “Many small and medium-sized businesses in China take advantage of Google to get their products to many other countries outside of China,” Pichai told the meeting, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
After the ban, Google subsequently shifted its operations to Hong Kong. In its absence, Chinese firms like Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and JD.com emerged most powerful players in China and abroad. Google and its products can be accessed in China through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) over which Beijing has stepped up a crackdown in recent times. Apple this year agreed to the Chinese government’s requests to remove dozens of virtual private network (VPN) apps services that allow Chinese users to access blocked websites from its local App Store.
Skype, the calling app, was removed from its mainland App Store this autumn. Pichai’s attendance at the state sponsored internet meeting came after China recently lifted the ban on Google translation services. Besides Google, a number of global social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter remain banned in China over fears that their presence would open-up to millions of China’s social media users marginalising the official media.
In his address, Cook said “the theme of this conference – developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits – is a vision we at Apple share”, adding that Apple “is proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace”.
The World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, near Shanghai, is an annual gathering of mainly Chinese internet officials and internet company executives as well as bureaucrats from developing countries. The previous three conferences in 2014, 2015 and 2016 were not attended by top US tech executives including Cook and Pichai, the Post report said. The Chinese government uses the event to pursue its argument that its censorship and regulation of the internet does not harm the development of technology and business prosperity.
Cook is a frequent visitor to China and was last in the country five weeks ago. The Apple chief executive’s presence indicates the importance of the Chinese market for the iPhone maker, even though Apple’s market share of China’s smartphone market is shrinking. In his address, President Xi spoke of “cyber sovereignty”. Xi said that online developments were raising many new challenges to sovereignty and security, and China was “willing to work with the international community to respect cyberspace sovereignty and promote partnerships”.