Senator says Google failed to answer key questions on China

US Senator Mark Warner. (Bloomberg pic)

WASHINGTON: Google refused to answer specific questions from US senators about plans for China, saying it’s too early to know exactly what the company’s path forward in the country will be.

Google has always been interested in expanding its presence in China but it’s “unclear” if the company will restart a search engine there, Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said in an Aug 31 letter to six senators, including Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, whose office provided Bloomberg News with the letter.

Google has been working on a search engine that would be censored to comply with Chinese laws. When news of the plan emerged in August, it prompted criticism from inside and outside the company. Warner has led the charge in Congress, demanding the Alphabet Inc. unit spell out how it will work with China. Google employees have resigned over the issue, and others have said the move would contradict the company’s founding principal of “don’t be evil.” Pichai is set to speak in front of Congress before the end of the year.

“Their response to the Senate failed to provide any information about Google’s reported plans to consider launching a censored search engine in China,” Warner said in an emailed statement. “Any effort to get back into China could enable the Chinese government in repressing and manipulating their citizens.”

Pichai’s letter underlines how seriously Google takes China. The company’s Android operating system is the dominant one for Chinese phone users, and Google has hundreds of employees working in the country, Pichai wrote. He hinted that Google’s global competitiveness may hinge on its ability to go toe-to-toe with China’s domestic internet giants.

“China’s largest internet companies have become increasingly dynamic and innovative,” Pichai said. “We hope to stay at the forefront of technology developments and believe that Google’s tools could help to facilitate an exchange of information and learning that would have broad benefits inside and outside of China.” The Intercept reported on Pichai’s letter earlier Friday.