BEIJING, March 23 (Reuters) - Young Chinese professionals working in Beijing’s main IT hub expressed a mixture of regret, anger and surprise on Tuesday at Google’s (GOOG.O) move to shut its mainland Chinese website and reroute searches to Hong Kong.
The government lost little time in warning Google that its rejection of self-censorship has incensed the ruling Communist Party, wary of ceding any ground on freedoms for China’s 384 million Internet users. [ID:nTOE62M01C]
But for many educated, and especially young, Chinese, Google has been a well-loved website, even if homegrown rival Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) dominates the overall domestic market.
And many fear Google’s move on its search engine could affect its other offerings, from email to online books.
“It’s a regrettable decision,” said Chen Wen, 28, who works in finance in Beijing’s Zhongguancun IT district, where Google has its China headquarters.
“I think it was inevitable though. The government was never going to compromise on filtering,” he added, as he walked past the Google offices. “China needs this company. It’s a great loss for the country.”
Google threatened on Jan. 12 to pull of China if it could not offer an uncensored version of its Google.cn search portal. On Monday, Google said it was rerouting users to the company’s Hong Kong site, google.com.hk, putting the burden on Beijing to apply its own censorship filters to keep Chinese users from seeing banned images and words.
You Chuanbo, 25, said he foresaw an unhappy outcome now that Google had stopped censoring searches.
“That is not going to last long. The government will just end up blocking access to all of Google,” added You, who works for a computer company and regularly uses Google, as well as Baidu.
At the Google offices, blinds were drawn on most of the windows, as workers scurried past a gaggle of reporters waiting outside in the morning chill, without talking.
A few employees peered out from behind the blinds to take pictures of the assembled groups of journalists.
One man walked up to the building to lay flowers at the Google sign in front of the office, saying simply: “I feel very sad”. He declined to identify himself or say anymore, and walked quietly away.
Other passersby stopped to take pictures of the building using cameras on their mobile phones.
“I use Google in English every day for research,” said IT engineer Wang Fei. “I need it for my job, and I’m worried about what’s going to happen.”
Reactions were more intense on the Internet, which has seen many passionate postings since the Google drama began some two months ago.
“Hong Kong is also Chinese territory. Hurry up and leave China once and for all!” wrote one reader on the website of the nationalist Global Times newspaper (www.huanqiu.com).
Others congratulated the company, or celebrated its move as a major salvo in a long-running war against government controls.
“Chinese netizens salute you Google. You are really brave,” wrote blogger Tingting on the popular sina.com.cn portal.
Another blogger, Peng Deng, said in the end the government would only lose its battle with censorship.
“Online, everything is possible. There’s no way the government’s hackers can block the technology of millions of users,” Peng wrote. (Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Ken Wills and Lincoln Feast)