image courtesy:Times Higher Education

China and Google are in talks for the internet giant’s return to the Chinese mainland after it was pulled out seven years ago following a bitter spat with Beijing over censorship rules.

“China has been in touch with Google through various channels. Last year, leaders of our country’s important department had further communication with Google,” Liu Binjie, a standing committee member of China’s Parliament the National People’s Congress and former head of the General Administration of Press and Publication said.

Google Scholar, a search engine for scholarly literature, was among the services on Beijing’s priority list for re-entry, Mr. Liu told sources .

However, with 721 million web users, China the world’s biggest internet market remained an attractive destination for Google but Beijing’s rigid firewall web system with stringent controls remained a concern.

In the absence of Google, Chinese language internet search engines like Baidu prospered. Microsoft’s Bing too tried to make inroads in China.

There was hope that a part of Google’s business would return to China first, gradually followed by others, Mr. Liu said. “The academic sector will be the first to get through. China’s focus is on making academic progress, such as academic exchanges as well as exchanges in science and culture, instead of news, information or politics,” he said.

Other Google functions under negotiation included “service functions that do not involve (politically) sensitive information,” the lawmaker said.

But no timetable had yet been set for Google’s return, he said

Google effectively shut down its Chinese operations after it discovered a cyber attack from within the country that targeted it and dozens of other companies. And while investigating the attack, Google found that the Gmail accounts of a number of Chinese human-rights activists had been hacked.

When Google shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010, it gave up access to an enormous market. There are more than twice as many people on the Internet in China as there are residents in the U.S., and the number of Chinese Internet users is growing at a rate that far surpasses that of any other country.

Currently Google search engine as well other services, including email services are blocked in China and they can be accessed only with VPNs, (Virtual Private Network).