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Waiting game in Google-China saga

By Lara Farrar, for CNN
The spat between Google and Beijing may soon come to a close, as the search giant awaits word whether its license to operate there will be renewed.
The spat between Google and Beijing may soon come to a close, as the search giant awaits word whether its license to operate there will be renewed.
  • Google is awaiting a decision on renewal of its license in China
  • Google-China spat began in January over cyber attacks on the firm
  • Since March, redirected users to its Hong Kong site
  • If the license is not renewed, will "go dark"

Beijing, China (CNN) -- The saga for Google's operations in China continues as the search giant awaits a decision from Beijing on whether its operating license will be renewed.

Guxiang, the company that runs Google's websites in China, has submitted its renewal application to the government, pledging to "abide by Chinese law," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The application was due Wednesday for the license. A "quick reply is expected soon" and Google was "late" in submitting the documents, Xinhua reported, citing an unnamed official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which issues the licenses.

In a blog post published Monday night, David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said Google would stop redirecting users to its Hong Kong search engine, instead taking them to a "landing page" that contains a link to -- a technical step seen as a move to placate Beijing's concerns.

In January Google said it no longer wanted to cooperate with China's Web filtering, following attacks from hackers that the company said it traced to China. On March 22, it announced it would redirect users to its uncensored Hong Kong search site.

Video: One more click for Google-China
Video: Google's China operations in doubt?
  • China
  • Google Inc.

While has remained accessible from the mainland, government filters have blocked sensitive queries made on the site. On Thursday, there were reports that the Google "suggest" search feature was not available to Chinese users. The feature offers possible search results as users type queries.

"It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable -- and that if we continue redirecting users our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed," Drummond wrote. "This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on and gives users access to all of our services from one page."

"Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like -- so Google would effectively go dark in China," Drummond said.

Yet whether Google's move to effectively relaunch will be enough to appease government regulators who were unimpressed by the March 22 redirect is unclear.

Google was not included on a list of companies released Wednesday by the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping that Beijing plans to approve to provide online mapping services in the country. More than 20 companies were on the list, including Baidu, China's largest search provider.

At a press conference Thursday, Qin Gang, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said "all internet companies in China, including international companies, should abide by Chinese laws."

Whether will continue to operate in China "is hard to say at this point," said Edward Yu, head of Analysys International, a Beijing-based research firm. "The Chinese government often makes their decisions basically in a way that is not transparent. It is very hard to judge at this point."

"What Google can do is wait for the process, and they need to further understand how consumers react," Yu said. "So far we think it is a negative blow to Google China."

Google, which has been operating in China since 2006, had built up a 30 percent share of ad revenues in China and around a 20 percent share of users, according to Analysys. While those shares dropped slightly after Google's January announcement, they have stabilized in the second quarter, Yu said.

"We need to see what kind of damage they are looking at and how this damage will effect their revenue," he said.