Google chairman Eric Schmidt was in Hong Kong this week, where he gave a speech at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and several interviews with the South China Morning Post that were decidedly more about China itself than about his company. The most interesting point raised by Schmidt’s visit seems to be his fear that China—due mainly to its malicious views on freedom of speech and information—may be significantly compromising its ascent as a global power.
Schmidt was quoted in several articles in the Post, and we have sifted through them to find the best bits. The original pieces can be found here and here and here.
“Google believes very strongly in a free internet. The mainland just passed the law about the 500-reposts thing. Then you will definitely think about it before you write. It’s a problem, (it) means your voice is not fully heard,” said Schmidt.
“My opinion is China wants to avoid the middle-income trap and in order to avoid that, they have to develop the openness, free speech, and the reason is in order to get there, you should have the debates about everything,” he added. […]
“I will also observe that if you are here in Hong Kong, and the Chinese government decides to change that, you will miss it. It’s important to stay right upfront.”
In addition to freedom of speech restrictions, Schmidt lamented a lack of technology entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, as many elite graduates are flocking towards finance instead of tech innovation:
“The government should try to get more technical people in the universities. What are the other industries in Hong Kong now? Finance and property. In America, people are not going to the banks. They are going to the technology companies. The reasons why they do this is the banks’ jobs are not interesting. It is just a mess after the crisis,” said Schmidt, referring to the 2008 global financial crisis that first began on Wall Street.
“Facebook started with four guys. Google started with two people. There’re lots of engineers in California. Why are there not lots of engineers in Hong Kong?” said Schmidt. “Hong Kong can be the destination for the next generation of technical people who want to do the Asia solutions.”
Google has had a complicated history in China, but there has been one constant; the company doesn’t pull very many punches, and it has never been kind to China’s censorship restrictions. Schmidt’s comments certainly won’t change tides in the maindland any time soon, but it’s damn good to hear that Google is still above Apple’s type of “we will willingly censor ourselves” type of China realpolitik.
[Image via Flickr]