Google Inc is tweaking its China website in a last-ditch effort to save its search business in the world's largest Internet market after butting heads with Beijing over Web censorship. The google.cn search site will stop automatically redirecting users to Google's uncensored search portal in Hong Kong — instead, visitors will be required to click a link to access the Hong Kong site, Google said on Tuesday. The move comes ahead of a Wednesday deadline for China to renew Google's operating license. Google said Beijing had made it clear it was unhappy with the company's three-month old system of re-routing Chinese Web surfers to google.com.hk. “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,” Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote on the company's corporate blog. “Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like Google.cn so Google would effectively go dark in China,” he wrote.
There was no immediate comment from China. Google shares were down 3 percent by early afternoon trading, in line with the Nasdaq stock market's fall. The website tweak is Google's latest attempt to strike a delicate balance between standing up to China's policy of Internet censorship while maintaining a presence in a market considered key to its future growth. Google's shares have fallen roughly 23 percent since the company announced its intention in January to stop censoring search results in China. “It seems like investors have already taken China out of the valuation of the company. I don't think there's much more incrementally negative for the stock,” said UBS analyst Brian Pitz.