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Google's Schmidt on China: 'Ultimately censorship fails'

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt says the power of the Internet and citizens' desire for information will break down the Great Firewall of China.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt
Stephen Shankland/CNET

In 1993, Internet activist John Gilmore said "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

Nearly 20 years later, China is still putting up blocks on the Internet in an attempt to restrict the flow of information within its borders. Despite China's persistence, the effort will eventually fail, and when it does, the country will see political and social openness on a huge scale, predicts Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

"I believe that ultimately censorship fails," he said in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine's blog The Cable at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival last week. "China's the only government that's engaged in active, dynamic censorship. They're not shy about it."

Eventually, the Great Firewall of China will crumble from the pressure of technological advances and people's desire for information and freedom, he predicted.

"I personally believe that you cannot build a modern knowledge society with that kind of behavior, that is my opinion," he said. "I think most people at Google would agree with that. The natural next question is when [will China change], and no one knows the answer to that question. [But] in a long enough time period, do I think that this kind of regime approach will end? I think absolutely."

Google certainly isn't timid about calling China out on these things. The company has accused China of stealing its intellectual property and of trying to hack the Gmail accounts of human rights activists and others. They say the attacks are so frequent that the company has even started warning users when they might be targets. And Google also offers tips on how Internet users in China can get around the Great Firewall filtering efforts.

"We believe in empowering people who care about freedom of expression," Schmidt said. "The evidence today is that Chinese attacks are primarily industrial espionage...It's primarily trade secrets that they're trying to steal, and then the human rights issues, that obviously they're trying to violate people's human rights. So those are the two things that we know about, but I'm sure that there will be others."