Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, has issued his most optimistic prediction yet that the Chinese government will renew his company’s licence, a move that would allow it to continue operating in the world’s biggest internet market.
“We would expect we would get the necessary operating licence,” Eric Schmidt told reporters at the annual Sun Valley conference of media and technology moguls, sponsored by Allen & Co, a boutique investment bank, on Thursday evening.
His upbeat comments at the Idaho event came little more than a week after Google warned that Beijing had threatened to close its access to the country by refusing to renew its licence, which officially came up for renewal at the end of June.
Earlier this year Google attempted to end censorship of politically sensitive search results without falling foul of Chinese law by automatically redirecting users on the mainland to a site based in Hong Kong, which lies outside the reach of the censors.
Chinese authorities have warned that such action breaches the terms of its licence, Google said last week.
“It was clear we had to end the redirect. We put up a static page,” Mr Schmidt said, referring to the new landing page to which Chinese users are now directed instead, giving them the option of going to the Hong Kong site.
Google’s long running battle with the Chinese government stemmed from objections of censorship on its China site google.cn, and it said in January it was prepared to pull out of the market.
Wang Chen, head of China’s Information Office of the State Council, told reporters in late June: “We’ve long said that to develop in China, you must abide by Chinese laws.”
The outcome of the fight could potentially block Google from some 400m users, the world’s largest internet market and among the fastest-growing global regions for internet services.
Mr Schmidt, speaking on the sidelines of the conference, told the Financial Times that there had been no new discussions with Chinese authorities since last week and that the company was awaiting a decision. He said he had no information on when Beijing planned a response, but added: “We now expect renewal.”
In a blog post on June 28, Google warned: “Without an ICP licence, we can’t operate a commercial website like Google.cn – so Google would effectively go dark in China.”
Asked when he expected China to give its answer, Mr Schmidt said: “You would have to ask the Chinese government.” He added: “Our operations in channel are completely in discretion of the Chinese government. I don’t want anyone to be confused about that.”