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China Report: U.S. Tech Desired, But Still Forbidden

An American IT expert visiting China finds strong interest in technology, but plenty of barriers, too--mostly from the Chinese government.
An American IT expert visiting China finds strong interest in technology, but plenty of barriers, too -- mostly from the Chinese government.

Recently returned from a six-city lecture tour in China, IT and search engine expert Steve Arnold was surprised to find that the Chinese business community is eager to learn about the same subjects as their U.S. counterparts -- "Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo."

"People's interest in China is almost identical to the U.S." Arnold said in an interview Wednesday. "Who's gonna win: Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo?"

However, in China the actual performance of leading search engines differs dramatically from the U.S. experience. Arnold said he had to struggle with authorities blocking his email and cell phone reception.

"Google.com timed out when I tried to get it," said Arnold of the English-based version of the search engine. "I could get Google.cn, but it was in Chinese and I can't read Chinese.

Analysys International reported Wednesday that Google ranks third in search engine ad revenue behind native provider Baidu and Yahoo. Baidu pinned down a 44 percent revenue market share while Yahoo, with 21.1 percent finished in the second position. Google's market share was 13.2 percent. The market research firm indicated that Google has been hampered by difficulties in localization including the challenge of building marketing channels.

Arnold said the Chinese government doesn't issue clear policies and regulations on the use of search engines. "The government doesn't tell people what they can and can't do," Arnold said. "When you can't access Google.com you don't know whether it's the government blocking it, or Google."

Earlier this year, Google -- like other non-Chinese search engines -- agreed to censor itself to comply with Chinese government wishes.

Arnold noted that there is a list of "10,000 forbidden words" in China that appear to be filtered and blocked. "It's the great fire wall of China," he joked. "You can work around (the blocks) but that's not easy."

On a more personal level, Arnold, who as managing director of Arnold Information Technology, said he generally had a positive experience with China Mobile's mobile phone service albeit with the ubiquitous filtering and blocking.

"I had constant four-bar signals everywhere I went across China," he said. "Even on the Yangtze River and in deep gorges. The connectivity was better there than in any country I've ever been in." He also said it was easy to get an English-speaking specialist on China Mobile.

However, the downside appeared after Arnold was in China for a few days when he suddenly found his e-mails blocked. He also couldn't get Web-based e-mails after a day or two in the country, leading him to speculate that the government takes a few days to close in on visitors' e-mails and block them.

He has some advice for Americans traveling in China who want to communicate without interference. Suggesting that visitors avoid local landline telephone service, he observed that Western hotels have links to phone access numbers, which work well. "And get used to using a fax again," he added.

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