Google finds little support so far for its China threat

Chinese espionage could be a cost of doing business in the country

Google's threat to pull out of China is getting very little support from other businesses or the U.S. government. And that's because Google is irrelevant to the overall forces shaping global businesses.

Within perhaps a generation, China will become the world's largest economy. And if China gains some small part of its growth because it successfully stole intellectual property from U.S. firms, it would likely be seen as a cost of doing business there.

Western powers didn't expand their territories years ago by politely asking native people for their lands -- most took whatever they needed. China will do the same, but instead of going after territory, China, in this new era, is going after intellectual property and trade secrets from companies that fail to defend what they have.

U.S. companies did not line up this week to back Google's position or express much alarm over the security issues in that country. Indeed, TechAmerica, the nation's largest technology industry group, whose members, collectively, have a massive presence in China, sent out a tepid response to Google's announcement.

The industry group's president, Phillip Bond, a former undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Commerce, said in a statement that "reports of cyberattacks from China are not news to the cybersecurity community. Cybersecurity risks emanating from China are ongoing and are very real for all of us."

TechAmerica is concerned about the security issues and will raise them as part of their policy recommendations to the incoming White House cyber security coordinator, he added.

The U.S. government plans to send a formal letter in the next few days to China in response to Google's charges. "It will express our concern for this incident and request information from China as to an explanation on how it happened and what they plan to do about it," said a U.S. Statement Department spokesman.

The U.S. has not accused China of cyber industrial espionage. Even if it could prove China's guilt, it may never make the findings public. U.S. officials may determine that such knowledge should be kept in the bank.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to speak on Internet censorship issues some time next week. But don't expect much beyond a letter and a speech from the U.S., because the real drama isn't Google, it's in the South China Sea.

The U.S. and China continue to have little military confrontations that hint to the underlying tensions. Just this past March, the U.S. hosed, literally, the Chinese Navy.

The U.S. ship Impeccable (officially an oceanographic ship) was, according to a U.S. government account, 70 miles south of Hainan Island when five Chinese vessels closed in on it. The Department of Defense release this account of what happened next: "Crewmen aboard the Impeccable used fire hoses to spray one of the vessels as a protective measure. The Chinese crewmembers disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet. "

The crew of the Impeccable used their fire hoses to try to keep the Chinese back, and if U.S. businesses are worried about China, then they better have their hoses ready as well.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld . Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , send e-mail to pthibodeau@computerworld.com or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed? .

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Patrick Thibodeau

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