State-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times Tuesday said that Google may be at least partly to blame for a Gmail service outage in the country for the past several days.
In an opinion piece, the newspaper said that it was the Internet giant's continuing unwillingness to obey Chinese laws that may have prompted the government there to block access to Gmail.
"Globally, Google has run into conflicts with authorities constantly with issues similar to those it has with the Chinese government," the paper noted.
Ordinarily, China has no objection to companies such as Google operating in the country so long as they obey Chinese laws. "However, Google values more its reluctance to be restricted by Chinese law, resulting in conflict," the paper said.
Gmail users in China have been largely unable to access their email accounts since late last Thursday after authorities there apparently blocked access to the service for reasons that remain unclear.
Since pulling out of China in 2010, Google has used servers based in Hong Kong to deliver its email service to users in the mainland. According to Internet performance monitoring company Dyn, Chinese authorities in the past few days appear to have blocked access to the IP addresses associated with those servers. As a result, the only way that anyone in China can presently access Gmail is via a virtual private network (VPN).
In comments to various local and international media outlets, Chinese government officials have insisted they are unaware of the Gmail access problems in the country. And Google itself has offered no explanation for what's going on besides noting that the disruption is not being caused by any technical problems on its end.
"If the China side indeed blocked Gmail, the decision must have been prompted by newly emerged security reasons," the Global Times argued in its editorial. "If that is the case, Gmail users need to accept the reality of Gmail being suspended in China."
The paper noted that China has to be cognizant of its national security interests when opening up its doors to foreign investors and businesses. "We cannot avoid issues like Internet and ideological security when dealing with large IT companies from the West," the paper said.
Regardless of who is responsible for the Gmail access issues in China, it is premature for Western media to accuse Chinese authorities of strengthening cyber censorship without knowing what prompted the decision, the Times said.
Google could still make Gmail available to users in China by hosting the service on email servers in other countries besides Hong Kong. But so far at least, the company has not shown any signs that it plans to do so, likely because it would take little for Chinese authorities to block access to those servers as well.
Google's Transparency Report, which provides real-time data on disruptions to Google services worldwide, showed a slight increase in traffic to Gmail from within China on Tuesday. However, it remains unclear if the uptick in traffic is because users have found a new way to access Gmail from inside China or because authorities there have decided to open up access in a very limited way.
Over the past few months, Google has run into a series of problems with its services in different countries. Earlier this month for instance, Google announced that it had decided to permanently shut down its Google News Service in Spain in response to a new copyright law in that country. Later that same week, Google announced that it had decided to pull its engineering operations out of Russia over a new Russian law that would have required it to store all data on Russian citizens within Russia.