I began a brief e-mail conversation recently with my colleague in the UK, Graeme Codrington, around the China v Google story. Or Google v China, depending on who you side with : ) I thought I’d take it online with Graeme, in case there are other voices that would like to weigh in on this very interesting unfolding story?

For those who aren’t in the know, very simply, Google has accused the Chinese government of hacking into the Gmail accounts of Chinese activists to get hold of confidential information. In light of this, Google has effectively decided not to play ball with the Chinese government any longer. (Read here for a more detailed round up)

Effectively it’s a clash of two worlds, two powers, two philosophies, and two of a number of other things.

  • China represents the old world. Google the new world.
  • Google is the heavyweight in the virtual world. China the heavyweight in the real world.
  • China subscribes to a more closed command and control philosophy. Google to a more open invite and participate philosophy.

For a really quick and easy read that pulls this sort of thinking together, read this Harvard Business Review Blog entry.

The quest for monopoly, monopsony, and control. That’s yesterday’s high ground, and China’s focused like a laser beam on it. China’s moves are the textbook stuff of b-school’s blackest arts. Through larger distribution, fiercer litigation, greater exclusivity, cheaper and faster production, a bigger cash pile, advantage is gained.

But the high ground has shifted. The new high ground is an ethical edge.
It’s not about having more; it’s about doing better. It’s not about protecting exports, pressuring buyers and suppliers, price discriminating against the powerless, and programming consumers to buy, buy, buy — it’s about making people, communities, and society authentically better off. It’s not about caring less — but caring more. It’s not about ruthlessness. It’s about mindfulness.

Of course the story is in it’s infancy. Of course there’s much skepticism that surrounds it. For example Google has been here before and didn’t respond like this, so why now?  Google also derives only 2% of it’s income from China, so taking a stand that may lead to them having to pull out of China isn’t as costly, as say, Microsoft or Intel.

My fascination with the story centers mostly around the stand off of these two world powers. Each starting from a very different place, but building towards what could be a spectacular case study for all of us. I even wonder if it has the potential to shape how we relate to each other in the future?

My question is, will Google have the courage to take a firm line and keep it?  And possibly a little more complex, is this stand-off the equivalent of what the Berlin Wall was for Russia and the US? Only this time it’s a virtual wall. And if so, what are the consequences to people in China, and people outside of China?

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