The giant Internet search engine Google took a strong stand for free speech this week, possibly incurring a financial loss that could run into billions of dollars.

Google has been operating in China, where it has about 700 employees. As a condition of doing business there, it had made an agreement with the Chinese government that it would censor search inquiries about topics the government didn’t want the Chinese people to access.

Thus, if a citizen of China Googled “Tiananmen Square” though the national Web site,, the only links that would appear would be ones giving the official government version of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations there.

That policy, which is also practiced by Google’s competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, has grown increasingly controversial, especially for a company whose motto is, “Do No Evil.” So, for the past few months Google has been negotiating with the government to remove the restrictions that have become known as “the Great Firewall of China.”

Those efforts have been rejected, so this week Google said it would move its search functions to Hong Kong. Although it is governed by Beijing, that city has fewer political restrictions and Internet searches haven’t been censored.

Still, initial reports said that sensitive inquiries to were now being blocked, so the transfer may not resolve the issue. The company doesn’t know yet if China will void its contract, but says it cannot continue to allow censorship. Still, because it fears reprisals against its Chinese workers, it says the policy is entirely the work of its U.S. leaders.

Good for them.