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Google's China presence in limbo as license set to expire

The license for Google's China website expires at midnight, but as the workday ended it had not been renewed. The US firm antagonized Beijing this year by refusing to censor its search results.

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Google's company logo is seen June 30 outside the firm's China head office in Beijing's Zhongguancun district, where high-tech companies are located. Google Inc will end the automatic redirection of users from its China to its Hong Kong website within the next 24 to 48 hours, a Google spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Bobby Yip/Reuters

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Google closed its Beijing offices for the day Wednesday still uncertain whether its Chinese website would be legal in the morning.

As a midnight deadline for an annual license renewal loomed, Google was still awaiting a decision by the Chinese authorities on its application for a new permit to act as an Internet content provider.

The fate of the American search engine giant – which in January announced that it would no longer submit searches by mainland Chinese users to official censorship as required – has been watched as a test of Internet freedom in the country.

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“We are still waiting to hear from the government,” said Marsha Wang, Google spokeswoman in Beijing, on Wednesday afternoon. “We do not know.”

Google said it decided to stop censoring its search results after it had detected cyberattacks coming from China against human rights activists’ Gmail accounts.

It has circumvented Chinese censorship since March by automatically redirecting any user who visited google.cn to the company’s uncensored website in Hong Kong, at google.com.hk.  

The Chinese authorities objected, however. “It is clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable – and that if we continue redirecting users, our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed,” Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said on Google’s official blog.

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