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Google thinks again about its 'Cold War' with China

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

January 12, 2012 | 3 min read

Google, which seemed to turn its back on China two years ago in a dispute over censorship, appears to be having second thoughts.

Google: turning back to China

It is hiring more engineers, salespeople and product managers in China and working to introduce new services for consumers there, Daniel Alegre, Google's top executive in Asia, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview .

The WSJ described the change of tack as an acknowledgment that Google " can't afford to miss out on the world's biggest Internet market." China has more than 500 million Internet compared to the U.S. which has 220 million users.

Alegre said Google was now aiming to grow in China via its fast-growing Android operating system for mobile devices, online-advertising and product-search services .

Google would like to usher in to China its Android Market, offering thousands of mobile applications to users of Android-powered smartphones and tablets.

Another outreach: services that don't require official censorship, such as Shihui, which launched in September to help people search among Chinese sites offering discounts at local stores.

It's two years today (Jan 12) since Google announced it would stop censoring its Internet-search results in China (required by local law) and was prepared to leave the country altogether.

The censorship row began after Google blamed a 2009 cyberattack on Chinese hackers. The American company stopped offering Web search on its main Chinese site, Google.cn. Users were directed to a site based in Hong Kong, but service was spotty because of the government's Web-filtering system.

Google, along with other Western tech firms, had up to that point operated a policy of compromising with Chinese authorities. Many Chinese at the time thought Google was withdrawing from the country completely. On the contrary, Google says it never abandoned the country - keeping more than 500 employees there.

Google's decision to reverse course now and invest more in China is a "pragmatic" one, said Mr. Alegre.

Government censorship notwithstanding, many Chinese are now using the web to grumble and share info.

The Weibo service , similar to Twitter, has become popular "as Google has sat on the sidelines," said the Journal.

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