The Beijing government's decision to renew Google's license to do business in China could be a big step in a long process of negotiations between Google and China to find a way to coexist.
Google announced Friday that China had renewed the company's Internet Content Provider (ICP) license, which enables the search giant to do business in the country. There was widespread speculation over whether the Chinese government would renew Google's license after the public battles the two have been have been waging over censorship and privacy in the past six or seven months.
[ For a less reverent view on Google-China relations, check out what InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely has to say in "Google's Chinese troubles are over -- for now" | Discover what's new in business applications with InfoWorld's Technology: Applications newsletter. ]
"This implies that relations are warming between [Google] and China," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "Actually I think this reflects concessions Google has probably made that we don't know of yet. China is historically very rigid ... Google will need to learn to cooperate with the country if they want to continue there."
According to Google spokeswoman Jessica Powell, Chinese authorities informed Google of its decision to renew the license early Friday. "We are very pleased that the government has renewed our ICP license, and we look forward to continuing to provide Web search and local products to our users in China," the company said in a blog post.
Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with market research firm IDC, said this step is another chess move in the back and forth of negotiations between the two superpowers.
"I think the Chinese authorities have shown that they are open to exercising some restraint when dealing with non-Chinese businesses," Reynolds said. "This will be an ongoing process, and this could be a short-term compromise from the Chinese perspective. The terms of Google's Internet Content Provider license give the Chinese multiple opportunities to revisit the terms of this relationship."
Google applied for renewal of its ICP license on June 29, a day before the cutoff for submission. The license expires in 2012 but must be renewed every year. Google cannot do business in China without the license.
Industry watchers have questioned whether China might drag its feet or even deny the license as part of its ongoing feud with Google.
The first salvos between China and Google were fired in January when Google threatened to halt its operations in China after contending that an attack on its network from inside China was aimed at exposing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. At the same time, Google said it was reconsidering its willingness to censor the search results of users in China as required by the government.