Fight with China’s censorship: Google moves headquarters to Taiwan
Google has moved to Asia: On December 11, Google opened its data center in the county seat of Changhua in western Taiwan. The small island state thus houses the largest headquarters of the IT giant in the Asian region. Google’s Taiwanese location replaces the planned data center in Hong Kong with immediate effect. The company has thus further increased its “security gap” to China – as insiders say, for political reasons.
Google’s move is no coincidence
Almost four years ago, Google withdrew from mainland China, but stayed in Hong Kong. With an investment of 300 million US dollars, a data center was to be built in the special administrative zone. This plan has since been abandoned: Instead, Google invested $600 million in Taiwan to establish its largest data center in Asia.
“The land for the Hong Kong construction project was too expensive,” said Joe Kava, explaining the relocation. He is the vice president of Google’s data centers.
Clear commitment to Internet freedom
That doesn’t sound very convincing: Google boss Eric Schmidt was already more explicit. In several interviews he gave during his visit to Hong Kong a month ago, he criticized the increasingly harsh Internet censorship by China’s communist rulers. Google could not live with the censorship in China, he openly admitted. Google has had five years of experience with the censorship authorities. From his point of view, the censored content was normal information. Schmidt stressed that Google will not think about returning to mainland China as long as the Beijing regime maintains its censorship system.
The Google chief also commented on a new Internet law passed by Beijing a few months ago. According to the law, anyone who circulates information that can be interpreted as defamation and is clicked at least 5,000 times or forwarded 500 times is liable to prosecution. Authors of such posts face up to three years in prison. Schmidt found this sentence too harsh and called it “frightening”.
What happened so far
Google’s fight against China’s censorship has been going on for years. In January 2010, the company stopped the self-censorship of its search engine in China. Since then, users of “www.google.cn” have been automatically redirected to the Hong Kong server address “google.com.hk”, which does not filter search results. Google made the decision after several hacker attacks on its Chinese server. The e-mail service Gmail, which was used by Chinese human rights activists, also experienced several cyber attacks.
What insiders say
An IT expert from Hong Kong who didn’t want to reveal his name said: “Google moved from mainland China to Hong Kong to bypass China’s censorship because Hong Kong had greater freedom. However, after Beijing’s loyal hardliner Leung Chun-ying became Hong Kong’s head of government in 2012, the local business climate deteriorated rapidly. More Internet police were deployed and online freedom was restricted. To ensure the security of its data center, Google decided to move to free Taiwan.
A former Silicon Valley Google manager said, “When Google moved from Hong Kong to Taiwan, it was certainly more political than economic. Google is actively working for Internet freedom and will soon launch a software called uProxy. The tool is designed to help its users break through online censorship and surveillance systems of dictatorial regimes.
The Republic of China, the official name for Taiwan, is a parliamentary republic according to the constitution of 1947, but has never officially declared itself independent. The head of state is the president (since May 2008 Ma Ying-jeou) directly elected by the people for a term of four years, who can only be re-elected once. He has far-reaching powers and appoints the Prime Minister (since February 2013 Jiang Yi-huah), who heads the government (Executive Yuan).
The highest legislative body in Taiwan is the Legislative Council (Legislative Yuan). Its 113 deputies are elected for a term of four years by a combined majority and proportional popular vote. The Legislative Council is responsible for passing laws and reviewing the government. More than 90 political parties are registered in Taiwan, but by far the most important are the Kuomintang National People’s Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progress Party (DPP).
With a few exceptions, Taiwan is not recognized internationally either as China’s representative under international law or as an independent state. The People’s Republic of China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has repeatedly threatened with military action in the event that Taiwan officially declares its independence. In fact, Taiwan meets all the criteria to be considered an independent state.
At the administrative level, the country is divided into five urban districts (shih), 14 counties and three special urban districts (chuan-shih).
Taiwan is today one of the most important economic nations in the world. Through foreign investments (especially by the USA) and joint ventures with foreign countries, the country has developed from an agricultural state to a modern industrial state.
In the mid-1950s, agriculture still accounted for about 35% of the gross domestic product (GDP), but currently it is less than 2%. Only about 5 % of the working population is employed here. Rice is the main crop, and the favourable climate allows up to three harvests per year in some cases. Other crops include sugar cane, cereals, vegetables, fruit and tea. Pig and poultry farming dominates the livestock sector. Fishing and fish farming (squid, tuna, eel) are important for export.
Industry accounts for a good quarter of GDP. In addition to the textile and clothing industry, the metal processing, chemical and petrochemical industries, as well as the automotive and mechanical engineering industries, are decisive. Since the end of the 1980s, Taiwan has developed into one of the leading producers of hardware in the computer sector. As a source of foreign exchange, tourism plays an important role in Taiwan.
The People’s Republic of China was Taiwan’s most important trading partner in 2013, ahead of Japan, the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore.
In the coastal lowlands in the west of the island, the transport system is very well developed. A total of around 38,000 kilometres of paved roads are available. The country’s rail networks have a total length of 1,841 kilometers. A high-speed train connects the two largest cities in Taiwan, Taipei in the north and Kaohsiung in the southwest. The ports of Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung) and Keelung are of great importance. The most important international airport is located near Taipei. Currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (= 100 Cents).