Mobile Communications

Kathryn Cave (Asia) - Google vs. China: Is Samsung Mediator or Trouble Maker?

Obviously we shouldn't make sweeping statements, but China hates Google and Google hates China. Well, Google is probably the least favourite tech company among the Chinese authorities, anyway. On top of this, in his new book (due for release in April) former Google CEO and current Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt describes China as an "IT menace" for cyber espionage and hacking.

Despite all this, new data from Strategy Analytics (which hit the news on Sunday) showed that Samsung devices now top the Chinese mobile market, knocking Apple out of the window and intensifying Google's presence in the region. The question is: will this development see Samsung cast in the role of mediator or trouble maker?

A general move towards Samsung (and the Android OS has been going on for a while). In fact a white paper published by China's tech ministry (MIIT) recently warned of the country's dependence on the Google Android operating system. This report stated that Android's ascendency threatened the development of China's smartphone industry, and showed how "Google can exert pressure on handset makers." Maybe this is little surprise? In November, mobile analytics startup Umeng claimed there are 140 million Android users in China compared to only 60 million iPhone users.

In marketing, a recent Warc study showed that the two brands regarded to be most innovative within the Asian mobile space were Coca-Cola and Samsung. And interestingly, China was perceived to be the third most innovative nation for mobile marketing (with 11% of votes), behind Japan (16%) and South Korea (15%) and ahead of Singapore (9%).

All this goes to show that the sheer importance of Samsung, Android (and Google itself) within China make it necessary for local companies to work with this US behemoth - even if they don't like it. However, this could prove no mean feat as a large number of Google products - including ones integral to Android, are blocked within the country. It seems this could go one of two ways - Reuters has even speculated that the Chinese government might be planning to regulate Android in order to give Chinese companies more of a chance.

Fundamentally, there is a general lack of understanding between the US and China in a lot of areas of business. This is especially true in the case of cybercrime, where a lot of blame has been apportioned on both sides. Reuters reported on Wednesday that China is now open to a constructive dialogue with the international media on the subject of security, openness and peace. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chuying said at a daily news briefing, "Internet security is a global issue. In fact, China is a marginalized group in this regard, and one of the biggest victims of hacking attacks." On the converse side, Schmidt described China as the world's "most sophisticated and prolific hacker" of foreign companies.

There are clear differences between the Chinese and US approach to business, which are becoming increasingly politicised as China competes with the US more aggressively on the world business stage. These divergences become especially clear when you look at a company like Google. What is more, this latest proof that Samsung devices now top the Chinese market is bound to have some kind of impact on the situation. However the question will remain: has this South Korean giant entered the ring as mediator or trouble maker? Will Google continue to thrive, or will it sink in China?


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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