WASHINGTON - Google's web search engine in China was "partially blocked" yesterday, the deadline for the Chinese authorities to renew the internet giant's business license.
"It appears that search queries produced by Google suggest are being blocked for mainland users in China," a Google spokesman told AFP. "Normal searches that do not use query suggestions are unaffected."
Google Suggest provides a user with suggested words as they type a query into the Google search box. Typing in the letters "ob," for example, may prompt a suggestion for "Obama."
A web page maintained by Google on the accessibility to its services in mainland China, google.com/prc/report.html, listed its web search service as "partially blocked" as of Wednesday.
The service had been listed as "fully or mostly accessible" for previous days this week. Other Google services such as Gmail, News and Images were "fully or mostly accessible" on Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear, however, whether the change in accessibility to Google's web search service in China was linked to its ongoing dispute with the Chinese authorities over censorship.
Google's web search engine in China has been "partially blocked" on three other days this month, most recently on June 17, June 18 and June 20.
Google said earlier yesterday that it would stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to an unfiltered search site in Hong Kong, a process it began in March in response to state censorship and cyberattacks it claims came from China.
Google said all mainland users would now be directed to a new landing page on google.cn, which links to the uncensored Hong Kong site.
Google's change in tack in the world's biggest online market was aimed at addressing government complaints about the censorship issue and came just before its Internet Content Provider license was up for renewal Wednesday.
"It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable - and that if we continue redirecting users, our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed," Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said on the company's official blog.
"Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like google.cn - so Google would effectively go dark in China," he said.
"Over the next few days we'll end the redirect entirely, taking all our Chinese users to our new landing page," he said.
Drummond said Google re-submitted its business license application based on what it called a "new approach."
"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self-censor and, we believe, with local law," Drummond said.
Marsha Wang, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for Google, said the company was still waiting for a response from the central government on the license issue.
"We will keep communicating with (the government) to see what information it will give us," she said.
China is the world's biggest internet market, with an online population of more than 400 million, according to official data.
In January, Google threatened to completely shut down its operations in mainland China over what it said were China-based cyberattacks, and said it was no longer willing to abide by the so-called "Great Firewall of China".
Two months later, it started re-routing Google.cn users to its unfiltered Hong Kong site.
Beijing reacted furiously, denying any role in the cyberattacks which Google said had targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents and saying it was "totally wrong" to stop filtering its Chinese-language search engine.