Our Best Friend and Worst Folly: Retelling Alphabet’s Story in China (2001-2018)

All Abstracts > Our Best Friend and Worst Folly: Retelling Alphabet’s Story in China (2001-2018)

Our Best Friend and Worst Folly: Retelling Alphabet’s Story in China (2001-2018)

Author | Affiliation:
Lianrui Jia | York University

Presenting at:
1D | China’s digital creative industries


As the globalization of Chinese internet advances at forces of the transnational expansion of capital and cushioned by state’s tolerance of foreign investment, the Chinese internet is a hotbed for political and economic contestations as U.S-based internet companies pry open and try to gain a foothold in China. With the world’s largest internet population, the commercialization of internet in China is expedited by a handful leading domestic giants that harness foreign investment and human capital. Meanwhile, the country’s internet regulatory regime and censorship help drive out foreign competitors, making China one of the few markets where the U.S-based global digital giants do not have market dominance.

This paper examines the political economy of Alphabet’s expansion in China—the company that are, ironically, “invisible” on the Chinese market after it relocated servers to Hong Kong in 2010. Looking at historical news reports, company annual reports, financial data, media releases and web archives, this paper takes stock of Alphabet’s expansion in China from 2001 to 2018 and historicizes its development in three phases: as investor, as market participant, and as collaborator. It is argued that on the one hand, Alphabet’s expansion in China is enveloped by the clash over internet governance agendas between U.S and China. On the other hand, the vested commercial and strategic interests of Alphabet pit company interests against a coherent iteration of national interests, namely, the U.S freedom to connect agenda vs. China’s internet sovereignty agenda.

The highly dynamic relationships between Alphabet and the Chinese internet market players, oscillating between cooperation and opposition, highlight how the interactions between state and capital give rise to both centripetal and centrifugal forces in the geopolitics of a globalizing Chinese internet. Retelling the story of Alphabet in China not only sheds lights on the inter-state and intercapital rivalries that have come to increasingly fragment the global internet, but also makes explicit the conflicts-laden globalization process of the Chinese internet as it opens to foreign competitors.

About the author

Lianrui Jia

Email: lianrui.jia@gmail.com

Lianrui Jia is a PhD candidate at York University, in Toronto, Canada and a post-doctoral researcher at University of Toronto. Her research interests are political economy of communications, Chinese internet, and digital platforms. Her works have appeared in International Communication Gazette, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Internet Policy Review, Communication and Public, and Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture.

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