Google has left China. Amid the hand-wringing over possible consequences, several prominent commentators are saying the Google-China conflict was--and is, and will be--much bigger than just a matter of Google and China. That's certainly the way Google would like it painted, as they continue their public relations push. But these commentators aren't just carrying water for the corporate giant. Here's why they think the conflict has larger significance.

  • It's a 'Defining Story of Our Time,' declares Timothy Garton Ash. He talks about freedom of information, and points out that people sometimes, even in "free" societies, choose filtered, biased information, for example in the case of cable news. "The crucial contrast to China is, of course, that Americans have a choice." He lays out four models for information flow: (1) state control, (2) "the big companies I rely on (Google, Yahoo, Baidu, Microsoft, Apple, China Mobile) select what I see," (3) total freedom, including for "jihadist propaganda, bomb-making instructions ... child pornography," and (4) total freedom, "except for that limited set of things which clear, explicit global rules specify should not be available. The job of states, companies and netizens is then to enforce those international norms." His assessment:
At the moment, we have a combination of (1) and (2). Developments in technology will give us more of (3), whether we like it or not. (4) currently looks like a pipe dream. Nonetheless, it is to (4) that we should aspire.
  • Part of Larger U.S.-China Conflict Shaping Up  In the Guardian, Simon Tisdall looks at the "widening, multifaceted political confrontation between the US and China's increasingly assertive communist government." Hillary Clinton's new eagerness to confront China over internet censorship, he says, "coincides with a string of other flashpoints in bilateral relations, ranging from Taiwan to Tibet to tyres." He flags trade issues as one important component.
  • Draws Line in Sand for Other Companies  Boingboing's Xeni Jardin is one of many to notice domain registration company GoDaddy's Chinese withdrawal. "The move could be symbolically significant: they're the world's largest domain registration company." Over at Foreign Policy, Thomas Ricks praises both Google and GoDaddy and takes the opportunity to ask a question of Microsoft and IBM: "Which side of the Great Firewall are you on, boys?" Ernie Smith agrees that the withdrawals only need "one more and it's a trend," while Mike Elgan at ItWorld thinks he's identified the most likely "one more"--Yahoo's next, he decides.
  • Contradicts Idea of China on Path to Freedom  The New Yorker's Evan Osnos reports from China that not much has changed with Google's departure, but that "many of us [American ex-pats] have fashioned an image of a country that is moving--in its own shambling pattern of fits and starts--toward something better for itself and the world.." But the casual ditching of the "global citizen," he says, makes China look "less like a calculatingly pragmatic steward of its people’s interests and more like an addled Goliath." The Atlantic's James Fallows, interviewing Google's David Drummond, turns up a similar view: Drummond says that, from the original hacking of Gmail accounts to increased censorship following the Beijing Olympics, "more and more pressure has been put on us. It has gotten appreciably worse--and not just for us, for other internet companies too."