A week ago when the first Wikileak cables started coming out, the New York Times reported that some of them shed some more light on the Chinese hacking attacks on Google which led to its withdrawal from operating in China proper. But the actual cables were not released until today. The NYT describes the cables at length in another article today. But the underlying cables are hard to find, so I’ve reproduced the four main ones below. I found three of them on Wikileaks, and the other on on the New York Times’ own Wikileaks documents page.
It appears from the cables that Google’s troubles in China were going on for years, but it got into particular trouble in 2009 when its Chinese site, Google.cn, wasn’t blocking pornographic sites to the level the Chinese government required. At that time, Google also had a link to its main Google.com site on Google.cn, which the Chinese government didn’t like either. In particular, one Politburo member, identified by the New York Times as Li Changchun, “discovered that Google’s worldwide site is uncensored, and is capable of Chinese language searches and search results. XXXXXXXXXXXX allegedly entered his own name and found results critical of him. He also noticed the link from google.cn’s homepage to google.com, which XXXXXXXXXXXX reportedly believes is an ‘illegal site.’” The Chinese government then told China’s three main telecom companies to stop doing business with Google.
The cables also describe denial of service attacks on Google’s sites in China, and concerns dating back to 2006 about Google Earth images of sensitive government facilities.
Cable 09BEIJING1336, Google China Paying Price For Resisting Censorship, May 18, 2009
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIJING 001336
State for EAP/CM – SFlatt, PPark, AGoodman
State for EEB/CIP – FSaeed, SFlynn
USTR for AWinter, JMcHale, AMain, TWineland
Commerce for MAC
Commerce for ITA – IKasoff, JWu
EO 12958 XXXXXXXXXXXXX
TAGS ETRD, PGOV, SOCI, SCUL, ECON, CH
Ref: Beijing XXXXXXXXXXXXX
Classified By: Economic Minister Counselor Robert Luke. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
¶1. (C) CDA spoke by phone with XXXXXXXXXXXXX to discuss recent pressure by the Chinese government to censor the company’s Chinese website, accelerated perhaps by the approach of significant political anniversaries.XXXXXXXXXXXXX averred that the root of the problem was China’s Politburo Standing Committee member XXXXXXXXXXXXX who wants the company to remove a link to the uncensored google.com site from its sanitized Chinese version, google.cn. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said Google China has resisted that step as against company principles, though it has taken other smaller measures to try and placate the government. Thus far that tactic has been unsuccessful, and the government has already taken commercial steps against Google, including telling the three dominant SOE telecoms to stop doing business with the company. CDA and XXXXXXXXXXXXX discussed possible USG advocacy, including having imminent visiting Codels and possible Cabinet-level officials raise this directly. For the moment, Google does not wish to go public, preferring to see if current efforts produce results. End Summary.
¶2. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXX, CDA Dan Piccuta and XXXXXXXXXXXX talked XXXXXXXXXX about the increasing censorship pressure Google is facing.XXXXXXXXXXXX said Politburo Standing Committee member XXXXXXXXXXXX recently discovered that Google’s worldwide site is uncensored, and is capable of Chinese language searches and search results. XXXXXXXXXXXX allegedly entered his own name and found results critical of him. He also noticed the link from google.cn’s homepage to google.com, whichXXXXXXXXXXXX reportedly believes is an “illegal site.” XXXXXXXXXXXX asked three ministries (note: most likely the Ministry of Industry and Information Industry, State Council Information Office, and Public Security Bureau.) to write a report about Google and demand that the company cease its “illegal activities,” which include linking to google.com.
Commercial Consequences Already Visible
¶3. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXX said that removing the link to google.com is against the company’s principles, and its leadership has definitively refused to make such a change, despite the importance of the Chinese market. Google recently has officially but “politely” told the government this, XXXXXXXXXXXX noted, and their Chinese interlocutors at the time were visibly unhappy and said they would report the news to XXXXXXXXXXXX . XXXXXXXXXXXX reported that Google had, however, already made some changes to its Chinese site and will continue to make others. Nonetheless, he said China has already asked its three state-owned telecom companies to stop working with China, a hard blow because mobile Internet is Google’s “big bet in China.”XXXXXXXXXXXX said one telecom company is seeking to back out of an existing contract with Google, while the two others have stopped moving ahead with negotiations. Other SOEs have also been asked to stop working with Google in China,XXXXXXXXXXXX said.
¶4. (SBU) The best case scenario XXXXXXXXXXXX foresees is that China responds to Google’s official refusal to take down the link by issuing an order warning against further non-compliance. More likely is
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that google.com will be blocked in China, either sporadically or permanently. This would be similar to China’s current blocking of YouTube, but with greater implications for users including business travelers and tourists, advertisers, and for Google’s network and technology platforms, possibly affecting other services like Gmail.thought it also possible that the government might revoke Google’s license to operate in China. He acknowledged that sensitive anniversaries in 2009 present special challenges to the Chinese government, especially the XXXXXXXXXXXX June 4 Tiananmen anniversary. (Note: Possibly in preparation for this anniversary year, Chinese censors have engaged in a months-long “anti- vulgar” campaign to shut down hundreds of “illegal” websites; see reftel.)
Google Deems its Legal Basis Sound
¶5. (SBU) Google lawyers have found no legal basis for China’s demands, XXXXXXXXXXXX reported. While the government has called google.com an illegal website to justify its request for removal of the link, Chinese law does not explicitly identify the site as illegal, the site is not blocked by China, and thousands of other Chinese websites include links to google.com.
¶6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said Google faces the dilemma of losing the Chinese market in retaliation for maintaining Google’s integrity and brand. The CDA and XXXXXXXXXXXX discussed the difficulty of engaging China on this matter, since no trade obligations cover China’s censorship regime, but considered what U.S. Government actions might be possible nonetheless.
USG High-Level Advocacy Requested
¶7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested that high-level USG officials phone or write to XXXXXXXXXXXX to indicate support for Google’s operations in China, in accordance with Chinese law. He suggested the letter could urge further dialogue toward a mutually acceptable resolution and suggest diplomatic or commercial consequences in the event of rash or disruptive action. After some discussion, XXXXXXXXXXXX concluded that intervention by Secretary Locke might be the most effective step.
¶8. (C)XXXXXXXXXXXX He noted that Google has also raised the issue with Representatives Kirk and Larson. However, he stressed, he would like USG support in making contact.
¶9. (C) The CDA said senior Embassy officials will meet with relevant Chinese ministries to make it clear the USG is aware of the issue, and to urge them to work constructively with Google.XXXXXXXXXX stressed that, before the USG engages on their behalf, Google would prefer to wait a few days to see what other steps the Chinese government might take.
Google History in China
¶10. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXX explained that Google entered the Chinese market in 2006 under scrutiny from Congress and shareholders, both concerned with the company’s agreement to be subject to censorship. To enter the China market legally, but remain faithful to its values, the company took a path of
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“responsible engagement” that included three commitments: Google will never disclose to the Chinese government any personal information about its users or their search habits; Google will always include a disclosure notice to identify when search results had been removed due to censorship; and Google will always provide an uncensored, U.S.-hosted site, subject to U.S. law.
¶11. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXX said the Chinese government’s granting of the licenses necessary for Google to operate in China implied passive approval or at least tolerance of the above principles. Since 2006, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, the company has operated responsibly and legally, following censorship orders just as other companies do. The vast majority of Chinese government requests for censorship have been related to pornographic material and illegal activities, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. In total, only about one percent of search results are blocked in China, according to the company.
¶12. (SBU)XXXXXXXXXXXX observed that, before Google China was formed, google.com was blocked in China in 2002 for approximately two months. At the time, he said, scholarly users were the company’s largest constituency, and their complaints about limited access to academic materials through Google ultimately caused the government to re-open the site. This time,XXXXXXXXXXXX observed,XXXXXXXXXX seems unconcerned with such repercussions, and will likely not yield to pressure from China’s Internet community. XXXXXXXXXXXX he said, believes Google is a “tool” of the USG being used to “foment peaceful revolution in China.”
¶13. (C) While we can neither confirm nor deny the provocative language and views attributed to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the claims of government-forced retribution by the major SOE telecoms companies are cause for serious concern. The potential for continuing escalation by the Chinese, assuming Google sticks to its guns — and the likelihood of loud U.S. Congressional and public outcry if it caves — suggest a high-level USG response may be in order. While we cannot verify XXXXXXXXXXXX’s claims of commercial retaliation, such a move seems quite possible. End Comment.
Cable 09BEIJING1957, GOOGLE CLAIMS HARRASSMENT BY CHINESE GOVERNMENT, July 12, 2009
SUBJECT: GOOGLE CLAIMS HARRASSMENT BY CHINESE GOVERNMENT
¶1. (SBU) Summary. XXXXXXXXXXXXX claim the company’s services have been blocked by the Chinese government periodically over the past three years. After users reported on June 18 that Google.cm search engine was not filtering returns for pornographic sites, the government on June 24 again blocked the company’s services for 24 hours resulting in the loss of 20 percent of its traffic that day.XXXXXXXXXXXXX believe the real reason for the government’s wrath is the company’s refusal to remove a link to google.com from the google.cn website. They argue doing so would be in violation of a commitment the company made with Congress. End Summary.
¶2. (SBU) In conversations XXXXXXXXXXXXX told ADCM and EconOff that the Chinese government has been blocking several of Google’s Internet sites periodically for the past three years. They said the blocking and other harassment had intensified in June 2009, purportedly because of the search engine’s failure to filter some inappropriate or illicit content found on the web.
¶3. (SBU)XXXXXXXXXXXXX said that XXXXXXXXXXXXX a group of Chinese Internet users reported that Google.cn was not effectively filtering pornographic sites. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said Google China representatives were called to a meeting co-hosted by the State Council Information Office (SCIO, responsible for controlling Internet content), the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT, responsible for Internet technology and policy), and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS, responsible for Internet crime). The Ministries demanded Google provide better filtering on its Google.cn search engine and temporarily stop indexing sites outside of China. XXXXXXXXXXXXX The company refused this request.
¶4. (SBU) Google then experienced a wave of “attacks” in the media reporting that pornographic material could be found through the Google search engine. (Note: In the nine days following the June 18 incident, an incomplete list of reporting in the Chinese press contains 57 separate articles attacking Google. End Note). On June 24 servers in China were virally infected, causing them to redirect computers attempting to reach Google pages to an unknown web site. These attacks made Google services unavailable to many Chinese users for approximately 24 hours, and caused the company to lose 20% of its traffic on that day.
Lose the Google.com
¶5. (SBU) BothXXXXXXXXXXXXX believe the real reason for the government’s wrath is Google’s refusal to remove the link to Google.com from the Google.cn website.XXXXXXXXXXXXX explained that, when the company decided to enter the Chinese market, it testified before Congress that it would agree to censor its search results in China as required by Chinese law based on three principles. First, the company would not store private user information so as to avoid persecution of individuals based on their use of Google’s services. Second, the company would disclose to users when a search result had been censored. Third, Google would maintain a link from the Google.cn homepage to Google.com.
¶6. (SBU) According to XXXXXXXXXXXXX, from 2007 through 2009 Google received numerous informal inquiries from the Chinese government as to the possibility of removing the Google.com link. The company repeatedly explained that it could not, based on its promise to Congress. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said the government, for the first time, verbally requested the company remove the link. Google China explained removing the link was not required under Chinese law and reiterated that doing so would violate the company’s commitment. This was the first time the company had explicitly denied a government request, XXXXXXXXXXXXX stated.
Pulling Out an Option
¶7. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXXX said the June 24 blocking of Google’s services is only the most recent of a three year history of blockings. He noted the company’s You Tube service has been entirely blocked since March 24. He believes the company is being harassed. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said the negative press coverage and service outages have caused the company to lose market share. XXXXXXXXXXXXXsays the company is regularly audited by tax authorities, and XXXXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said that, faced with the continual
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difficulties of doing business in China, the company may even consider pulling out of the market.
¶8. (SBU) Comment. Google is the only international search engine still doing business in China. It is an important symbol. If Google were forced to withdraw from the market, the move could attract heavy international attention. End
Cable 06BEIJING23571, PRC CLAIMS HIGH RESOLUTION IMAGERY ON GOOGLE EARTH, November 7, 2006
SUBJECT: PRC CLAIMS HIGH RESOLUTION IMAGERY ON GOOGLE EARTH
COULD AID TERRORIST ATTACKS ON CHINA
Classified By: Classified by Deputy Chief of Mission David S. Sedney.
Reasons 1.4 (b/d).
¶1. (C) China wants the United States Government to take
action to get Google to reduce the resolution of the Google
Earth images of China’s military, nuclear, space, energy and
other sensitive government agency installations in order to
deprive terrorists of potentially dangerous information, XXXXXXXXXXXX
the DCM on XXXXXXXXXXXX said the Beijing request was
based on possible “grave consequences” if terrorists exploit
the information to harm China. Google Earth is a private
company, the DCM reminded XXXXXXXXXXXX was noncommittal on
whether China would directly contact Google or the European
imagery providers and the other sources of high resolution
imagery on the Internet. Other countries have shared similar
concerns with China, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, but he refused to divulge
country names. End Summary.
Google Earth High Resolution Images a Threat to China
¶2. (C) Google Earth is providing high resolution images of
sensitive Chinese facilities over the Internet, thereby
endangering PRC national security, XXXXXXXXXXXX
the DCM during a XXXXXXXXXXXX meeting. These facilities
include military installations, nuclear test sites, satellite
launch sites, oil production facilities, power generating
plants and important government departments. The resolution
is one meter for most of China, and is as fine as 0.6 meters
in Beijing and Shanghai, allowing anyone with Internet access
to view these facilities in great detail. Moreover, Google
Earth allows users to post information about specific
locations, XXXXXXXXXXXX continued, which means information about
important Chinese agencies and sensitive installations is
effectively being published on the Internet.
“Grave Consequences” if Terrorists Use Imagery
¶3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said China is extremely concerned that
terrorist organizations could access the high resolution
imagery and posted information and present a grave threat to
PRC national security. If terrorists used the imagery from
Google Earth to cause damage to China, there would be “grave
consequences,” warned XXXXXXXXXXXX. In the spirit of our sound
bilateral cooperative relationship, particularly on
counterterrorism issues, XXXXXXXXXXXX asked that the United States
place “great importance” on China’s concerns, understand the
sensitivity of the matter and take action so that Google will
reduce the resolution of the images of China’s sensitive
DCM: Google a Private Company, and Not Imagery Source
¶3. (C) The DCM told XXXXXXXXXXXX that he would report the request
to Washington, but noted that Google is a private company.
The DCM said he had no information to offer on what, if any,
role or response the United States Government might have to
the Chinese presentation. The DCM noted that the Chinese
points only asked for a reduction in the resolution and asked
if the Chinese sought any specific level. The DCM also asked
whether XXXXXXXXXXXX had contacted Google directly and, since
Google purchases the imagery as any individual or entity can,
whether China had contacted the satellite imagery providers.
XXXXXXXXXXXX: Other, Unspecified Countries Have Similar Concerns
¶4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX responded that China is approaching the United
States Government because the issue is directly relevant to
counterterrorism and that while Google is a private company
it operates in the United States “political and legal
environment.” China is requesting the United States take
action to prevent the information from being misused to cause
damage to China, XXXXXXXXXXXX reiterated. He offered that China
had been in discussions with other countries with similar
concerns about Google Earth. However, XXXXXXXXXXXX refused to
provide the names of the other countries, noting he was
unable to share the information due to prior agreements with
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Europe the Source of Imagery, But Google Earth is the Key
¶5. (C) China will talk to Google about the “technical
details,” XXXXXXXXXXXX continued, adding that it is not for the MFA
to determine the appropriate resolution level. China knows
the source data comes from European companies, satellite
operators and the European space agency but XXXXXXXXXXXX said China
sees Google as the problem because it makes the information
easily accessible. When pressed, XXXXXXXXXXXX admitted that
Beijing had not yet contacted the European providers or the
governments associated with the European space program. XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX said that while China will look at the other Internet
sources of the high resolution imagery, Google,s well known
imagery is of greatest concern.
And this one from the NYT (with redactions): Chinese Government Singles Out Google
DATE –––– ––––:––––:––––
SOURCE Embassy Beijing
–––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– ––––
NSC FOR BADER, MEDEIROS, AND LOI
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/26/2030
TAGS: ECON, PGOV, PHUM, PREL, EINV, CH
SUBJECT: GOOGLE UPDATE: PRC ROLE IN ATTACKS AND RESPONSE
REF: –––– ––––
–––– –––– ––––.–––– –––– ––––
Classified By: DCM Robert Goldberg. Reasons 1.4 (b), (d).
1. (S) Summary: A well-placed contact claims that the
Chinese government coordinated the recent intrusions of
Google systems. According to our contact, the closely held
operations were directed at the Politburo Standing Committee
– Another contact claimed a top PRC leader was actively
working with Google competitor Baidu against Google.
– Chinese concerns over the recent Google threat to take
down the company’s Chinese-language search engine google.cn
over censorship and hacking allegations were focused on the
service’s growing popularity among Chinese Internet users and
a perception that the USG and Google were working in concert.
– An appeal to nationalism seems to be the Chinese
government’s chosen option to counter Google’s demand to
provide unfiltered web content.
– Contacts in the technology industry tell us that Chinese
interference in the operations of foreign businesses is
widespread and often underreported to U.S. parent companies.
Attacks Directed at High Level
2. (S) –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– (––––) –––– ––––
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PRC Sees USG and Google Working Together
3. (C) –––– ––––, –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– ––––
–––– –––– (–––– ––––), told PolOff –––– –––– that
Google’s recent move presented a major dilemma (maodun) for
the Chinese government, not because of the cyber-security
aspect but because of Google’s direct challenge to China’s
legal restrictions on Internet content. The immediate
strategy, –––– said, seemed to be to appeal to Chinese
nationalism by accusing Google and the U.S. government of
working together to force China to accept “Western values”
and undermine China’s rule of law. The problem the censors
were facing, however, was that Google’s demand to deliver
uncensored search results was very difficult to spin as an
attack on China, and the entire episode had made Google more
interesting and attractive to Chinese Internet users. All of
a sudden, –––– continued, Baidu looked like a boring
state-owned enterprise while Google “seems very attractive,
like the forbidden fruit.” He said it “seems clear” to the
Chinese people that Google and the U.S. government were
working together on Internet freedom and to undermine Chinese
government controls on the Internet. That made some
intellectuals happy, –––– said, but “some others” regarded it
as interference in China’s internal affairs.
Industry: Interference Common, Paranoia Driving PRC Policy
–––– –––– 002 OF 002
4. (C) –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– ––––
–––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– ––––’–––– ––––
–––– –––– –––– –––– (please protect) noted the
pronounced disconnect between views of U.S. parent companies
and local subsidiaries. PRC-based company officials often
downplayed the extent of PRC government interference in their
operations for fear of consequences for their local markets.
Our contact emphasized that Google and other U.S. companies
in China were struggling with the stated Chinese goal of
technology transfer for the purpose of excluding foreign
competition. This consultant noted the Chinese were
exploiting the global economic downturn to enact increasingly
draconian product certification and government procurement
regulations to force foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) to
transfer intellectual property and to carve away the market
share of foreign companies.
Chinese Media: American Hypocrisy and Cultural Hegemony
5. (U) The Secretary’s speech continued to dominate headlines
January 25-26, with the official People’s Daily (circ 2.2
million) alleging collusion between U.S. officials and the
business community as evidenced by the propinquity of
Google’s rethink of its China business and the Secretary’s
speech. Chinese media again accused the U.S. of “cultural
hegemony” for setting the standards for “so-called Internet
freedom8 and of hypocrisy for calling for the free flow of
information while using the Internet as a political and
military tool. People’s Daily-affiliated Global Times
English (circ 150,000) called the speech a “milestone”
showing that U.S. and Western political interests were
“taking over every dimension” of cyberspace.
6. (U) The Party-affiliated Beijing News (circ 530,000)
opined that the speech showed “a huge gap between Chinese and
American information industries, which may lead to a trade
war strategy.” In an article headlined “China Intensifies
Counterattack on Internet Accusation,” Global Times Chinese
(circ 1.3 million) quoted Chinese scholar Niu Xinchun as
rejecting the theory that U.S.-China conflict would replace
the “G2″ cooperation model, noting that U.S. attacks usually
ended “poorly” when the U.S. considered its practical
interests. Many papers quoted statements from the State
Council Information Office and Ministry of Industry and
Information Technology calling Chinese Internet controls
“legitimate” and saying they should not be subject to
“unjustifiable interference.” Papers continued to conflate
Google’s China business strategy with the Secretary’s speech.
7. (SBU) Anecdotally, censors appear to have cracked down on
blogging about the Secretary’s speech. –––– –––– ––––
–––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– (––––) –––– ––––
–––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– ––––
–––– –––– –––– ––––, –––– –––– –––– –––– ––––
–––– ––––. Secretary Clinton’s speech is currently blocked
in Chinese on state.gov but remains accessible on the U.S.
Embassy website in both English and Chinese.