Google’s Holiday Gift To China

There are only three shopping days remaining until Christmas Eve! Have you purchased and wrapped all of the presents on your Gift List?

Some of us, of course, confront more difficult challenges than others in choosing appropriate gifts for recipients. But imagine how tough it must be to select a gift for the world’s largest communist nation!

In a sense, that’s exactly what Google may have delivered for the government of China. On December 13th, the internet services giant announced that it will open a center for basic Artificial Intelligence research in Beijing.

So why is this a gift? Because Google’s services, like Facebook’s, are banned in China. And on December 18th, just five days after Google’s announcement, a Chinese official confirmed the ban by declaring:

That’s a question maybe in many people’s minds, why Google, why Facebook are not yet working and operating in China. If they want to come back, we welcome (them). The condition is that they have to abide by Chinese law and regulations. That is the bottom line. And also that they would not do any harm to Chinese national security and national consumers’ interests.

It’s possible, of course, that Google’s decision will help it gain access to the Chinese market in 2018. If that occurs, its AI Center may be perceived in retrospect as a profitable investment in a new business market.

But what if the Chinese government doesn’t open its market to Google next year? Perhaps the center’s Chinese technology specialists will provide valuable developmental expertise to the American firm. And perhaps those same specialists will learn just as much from Google.

At the moment, though, Google has made a commitment to open an advanced research center in a nation that bans its services from its entire domestic economy. Unless Google’s commitment eventually “pays off” in some substantive manner, it isn’t very difficult to characterize its decision as a gift.