By DAVID BARBOZA
SHANGHAI — The Internet giant Google said Friday that the Beijing government had renewed its license to operate a Web site in mainland China, ending months of tension after the company stopped censoring search results here and pulled some operations out of the country.
Two office workers outside of Google's head office in Beijing on Friday. (Photo: Bobby Yip/Reuters)
Google made the announcement early Friday morning in California in a blog posting by the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond.
“We are very pleased that the government has renewed our I.C.P. license,” Mr. Drummond wrote referring to an Internet content provider license. “And we look forward to continuing to provide Web search and local products to our users in China.”
If the license had not been renewed Google would have effectively been forced to shut down its Web site, google.cn, in China.
The renewal allows Google to continue offering limited services in China and to direct users to the company’s uncensored Hong Kong-based Chinese language search engine, google.com.hk. Hong Kong, a former British colony that is now a special administrative region of China, is governed separately from the mainland.
Google announced in January that it had suffered China-based cyber attacks on its databases and the e-mail accounts of some of its users. Google also said it would stop censoring search results, which it had agreed to do when it first began to operate in China in 2006. In March, the company closed its Internet search service in China and began directing users in that country to its uncensored search engine in Hong Kong.
Many analysts were stunned by Google’s decision at the time and questioned whether the company was acting prudently by exiting the world’s fastest-growing Internet market. When it made the decision, Google operated the second-largest search engine after Beijing-based rival Baidu.com.
But the license renewal is a sign that Google, while uncomfortable with operating in China and censoring its search results on Beijing’s behalf, is determined to keep a foot in China, which now has more Internet users than the United States.
Just two weeks ago, though, Google signaled a softer approach to Beijing by saying it had stopped automatically sending users in mainland China to its Hong Kong site. The company said it had created a Web page that offered users a choice, rather than automatically directing them to its uncensored Web site. The move, though seemingly insignificant, seemed to better comply with Beijing’s strict regulations.
“This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on google.con and gives users access to all of our services from one page, Mr. Drummond wrote at the time.
Some experts said that Beijing could have moved as early as January to shut down Google.cn and prevent Chinese users from reaching Google’s uncensored Web site. But thus far, the government has not done so; and Beijing has renewed the company’s license.
License renewal by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is required annually for Google’s license, which officially expires in 2012.
The decision came a day after Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said he was confident the company would secure a license to operate here.
But Beijing has also signaled its determination to monitor Google. In a media report released on June 30 by Xinhua News, China’s official news agency, a government official said that the local company running Google’s Chinese Web site had pledged to “abide by the Chinese law,” when it submitted its renewal application.