BEIJING—Internet giant Google Inc. on Wednesday defended bending to China's strict censorship rules, saying it had no other way to enter a nation with huge online growth potential that may shape the company's future.
Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive officer, acknowledged heavy criticism on Capitol Hill for submitting its Chinese-language search engine to censorship.
But he said Google had to block links to sensitive subjects as a condition for working in China, which has 111 million Internet users and may one day surpass the United States to have the most online surfers in the world.
"We have all made commitments to the government that we will absolutely follow Chinese law. We don't have any alternative," Schmidt said at a news conference.
The event was called to launch Google's Chinese-language brand name, but questions repeatedly veered to the Mountain View, Calif., company's decision in January to block links at its www.google.cn Web site to issues that the propaganda ministry deemed sensitive, such as the bloody suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, later democracy efforts and issues related to Tibet and Taiwan.
Internet freedom advocates have accused Google of straying from the company's core values and its longtime motto of "Do no evil." Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft Corp. also have come under fire, including at a March hearing on Capitol Hill, for acceding to China's censorship.
Schmidt said Google's desire to help Chinese Internet users outweighed concerns about freedom of expression.
"It's crucial that Google participate, help and serve the Chinese user," he said. He added that China isn't the only nation in which certain information is barred, mentioning later restrictions in Germany on Internet links to neo-Nazi movements.
"We've made a decision that we have to respect the local law and culture. So it's not an option for us to broadly make information available that is illegal or inappropriate or immoral or what have you," Schmidt said.
While Google is the largest search-engine company in the world, it lags in China behind Beijing-based Baidu.com.
Google flew about half its senior management team to Beijing to roll out the company's Chinese-language brand name. Many Chinese Internet users already know the company by its English name, pronouncing it "go-go," or "little doggie" in Chinese.
"We have looked for a Chinese name for four years," said Allen Wang, the chief marketing officer for Google in the Asia Pacific region.
The company settled on "Gu-Ge," which means "harvest songs" in Chinese.
Google still is working to translate its English-language products into Chinese, and by midsummer should have more than 100 software engineers working at a research and development center in Beijing, company executives said. The center eventually may create products for markets worldwide.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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