BEIJING – Google Inc. said Tuesday it will stop automatically rerouting users of its China search site to its Hong Kong site after Beijing threatened the company with the loss of its Internet license.
Google shut down its China-based search engine March 22 to avoid cooperating with the communist government's Internet censorship and has rerouted users to its unfiltered site in Hong Kong. But Google said regulators told the company its Internet license, which expires Wednesday, would not be renewed if that continues.
"They made it clear to us that they did not think the redirect was acceptable," said a Google spokeswoman, Jessica Powell. She declined to say what reasons the government gave for its objections.
Google still operates a music download service and several other features on Google.cn that are not affected by filtering regulations and Powell said it wants those services to continue.
Instead of automatically being switched to Hong Kong, visitors to Google.cn now see a tab that says in Chinese "We have moved to google.com.hk." Users can click on that tab to move to the Chinese-language site in Hong Kong, which is a Chinese territory but has Western-style civil liberties with no Internet filtering.
There was no immediate word from Beijing about whether the measure was sufficient for Google to keep its Chinese Internet license.
"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self-censor and, we believe, with local law," said Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, on a company blog.
"We are therefore hopeful that our license will be renewed on this basis so we can continue to offer our Chinese users services via Google.cn."
Beijing encourages Internet use for business and education but operates an extensive monitoring system and tries to block access to pornography or subversive material. China has the largest population of Web users, with 384 million people online at the end of 2009, according to the government.
Google announced in January that it no longer wished to comply with Chinese Internet filtering and said hackers working from China tried to steal its code and break into e-mail accounts of human rights activists.
The statement was an embarrassment for China's leaders, who want foreign companies to help develop its technology industries. People in the industry are watching to see whether Beijing allows Google to continue operating other businesses.
A foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said he had not seen Google's announcement and could not comment on it. However, he added, "I would like to stress that the Chinese government encourages foreign enterprises to operate in China according to law."
Google, based in Mountain View, California, hopes to keep a research center in China, an advertising sales team that generates most of its revenue in the country and a fledgling mobile phone business.
In a statement June 8, the government said the Internet played an "irreplaceable role in accelerating the development of the national economy." But it vowed to keep a tight grip on online content and to block subversive material.
Regulators block websites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to prevent dissidents and human rights or Tibet activists from using them to spread criticism of Beijing.
ATHENS, Greece – Public services shut down across Greece Tuesday as workers walked off the job in a new nationwide general strike that disrupted public transport, left hospitals operating on emergency staff and pulled all news broadcasts off the air.
Tension mounted once more in the country's main port of Piraeus, where hundreds of demonstrators from Communist Party-backed labor union PAME attempted to prevent tourists and locals from boarding ferries to Aegean islands, even though a court had declared seamen's participation in the strike illegal. Although some ships did leave early in the morning, not all passengers managed to board.
A similar strike by two seamen's unions last week — which was also declared illegal — left thousands of travelers stranded for a day in Piraeus. Shipping companies and officials in Greece's vital tourism industry strongly criticized the government for not taking action to stop the strikers.
"They want to put us in a straitjacket so we work for free all our lives so that some can have their wealth and get very rich at our expense," said Sotiris Poulikogiannis, a protestor in Piraeus. "We don't accept this. Day by day we'll grow stronger and more aware of how to overturn this situation."
Tuesday's strike disrupted public transport, with bus, metro and tram drivers walking off the job for several hours. The country's airports, however, remained open, and international flights were operating normally although nearly 100 domestic flights were canceled.
All news broadcasts were pulled off the air for the day, while no newspapers would be printed for Wednesday as journalists walked off the job until Wednesday morning.
The general strike was called by debt-ridden Greece's two major private- and public-sector unions, who bitterly oppose draft legislation that will increase retirement ages and make it cheaper for companies to fire workers.
Unions also planned demonstrations, and dozens of PAME protesters gathered ahead of rallies in central Athens. They formed a human chain along a major avenue in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Parliament, hanging a giant banner from a crane calling on lawmakers to cancel the austerity measures while music blared from loudspeakers.
Parliament is to start discussing the proposed reforms Tuesday, in a debate expected to last more than a week. Despite opposition from several of its own lawmakers, the center-left government — which holds a seven-seat majority in the 300-member house — is expected to win the final vote.
Protests during previous strikes have turned violent, and three employees died on May 5 in a bank torched by rioters.
Greece is caught in a major debt and deficit crisis. It only avoided bankruptcy last month after receiving the first installment of a euro110 billion ($136 billion) emergency loan package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
In return, Athens passed painful austerity measures, cutting pensions and salaries and raising consumer taxes.
Associated Press Television producer Nathalie Rendevski Savaricas in Piraeus contributed.
BEIJING – China and Taiwan prepared Tuesday to sign a trade deal that binds their economies closer and that Beijing hopes could lead to political accommodation six decades after the rivals split amid civil war.
Taiwan hopes the tighter economic links will keep the island from being economically marginalized as China's global clout grows. Beijing is granting Taiwanese products quick tariff reductions to show the benefits of closer ties.
The pact will end tariffs on hundreds of products traded across the strait and allow Taiwanese firms access to 11 service sectors on the mainland, including banking, accounting, insurance and hospitals. It should boost bilateral trade already totaling about $110 billion a year: some $80 billion in goods flowing to China, and $30 billion to Taiwan.
The deal will be signed in the southern Chinese city of Chongqing — a venue with an evocative history. Communist leader Mao Zedong and Nationalist President Chiang Kai-shek tried to negotiate a truce there after World War II — but failed. The two sides then resumed the civil war that ultimately saw Chiang's government driven from the mainland to Taiwan in 1949.
For decades, relations across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait have been strained and remain a potential military flashpoint. China has 1,300 missiles aimed at Taiwanese targets and, while Taiwan has cut its defense budget as a proportion of GDP in the last two years, it retains a well-equipped air force as a deterrent.
Chen Yunlin, who oversaw negotiations for Beijing, met Tuesday morning with Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of Taiwan's semiofficial Straits Exchange Foundation, ahead of the signing later in the day. A second agreement on intellectual property rights protection also is to be signed.
"This is a critical moment in the development of long-term relations. We should seize the opportunity to work together and build mutual trust," Chiang said.
Chen called it an agreement of "equal consultation and mutual benefits."
Formally known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, the pact marks a political victory for both governments. Chinese President Hu Jintao has sought to move beyond the threatening rhetoric that long characterized Beijing's response to Taiwan's refusal to unify with the mainland. His government has talked of ending the state of hostility with Taiwan and negotiating a peace treaty.
For Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, the deal is the high-point in the rapprochement that he has engineered since being elected two years ago on a platform to reduce tensions and strengthen economic ties. But Ma is under pressure to prove his strategy is working to Taiwan's boisterous democracy and a divided public skeptical about Beijing's intentions.
He told a group of generals Tuesday that the trade pact has been widely viewed as a "positive development within and outside the region."
Ma assured the generals that Taiwan will not let down its military defenses but will pursue a smaller but more powerful arm forces.
Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party has criticized Ma for proceeding without enough public input and rejecting calls for a public referendum on the agreement. There have also been street protests against the deal.
Still, polls show a majority of Taiwanese support the deal because of the economic boost it promises.
Notwithstanding years of political tension, Taiwanese businesses are already some of the most eager investors in China, having poured at least $83 billion into the mainland over the past two decades. About 40,000 Taiwanese companies now operate here.
Ma's government says the deal will keep Taiwanese businesses competitive with Southeast Asian countries, whose free trade agreement with China came into force Jan. 1.
Analysts from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank, project the deal could help Taiwan increase its GDP by up to 5.3 percent by 2020 and have described it as "an ambitious accord that fundamentally changes the game between Taiwan and China."
Associated Press reporter Annie Huang in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.