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Google still thinks it can change China

By saying it no longer wants to offer censored search results in China, Google hopes it could change the way the country enforces censorship laws, according to its CEO.

After all the posturing of the past few weeks, Google CEO Eric Schmidt apparently still thinks that his company can change China.

In comments at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Schmidt continued to soften his rhetoric toward the government of China, which Google all but accused of orchestrating a cyberattack that resulted in the theft of intellectual property. "We like what China is doing in terms of growth...we just don't like censorship. We hope that will change and we can apply some pressure to make things better for the Chinese people," Schmidt said, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Google is trying to determine the future scope of its presence in China. Two weeks ago it declared that unless Google was allowed to offer an uncensored search engine in China, it would shut down its existing censored search engine and would consider pulling out of China entirely. Since then, Google has appeared to try and find middle ground between itself and the Chinese government.

"We like the Chinese people. We like our Chinese employees," Schmidt said last week on Google's fourth-quarter earnings call. "We remain committed to being there." On the same day, however, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Google for standing up against censorship and told Internet companies that they have a "shared responsibility" with the U.S. government in ensuring free access to the Internet for the world.

It seems unlikely that Google's ultimatum really will change Chinese censorship laws, but stranger things have happened. Google is believed to be discussing its options in China, which could involve maintaining a software-development or research presence even if disappears.