SAN FRANCISCO --- Google won permission Friday to maintain its Web site in China and keep its toehold in the world's most populous nation after bowing to pressure to eliminate a virtual detour around the country's online censorship requirements.
Entering search requests at Google.cn from within mainland China now requires an extra click. Users who click anywhere on the page are taken to a site based in Hong Kong, which isn't subject to Beijing's censorship rules.
Since March, Google had been automatically rerouting search requests from the mainland to the Hong Kong service.
The small concession was enough to persuade China's regulators to renew Google's Internet license for at least another year, the company said. There was no immediate statement on the Web site of China's Internet regulator, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
It's the latest twist in a diplomatic dance that's been unfolding since Google vowed in January to end its four-year practice of omitting search results that the Chinese government considers subversive or pornographic.
Google reversed course after blaming Chinese computer hackers for an attack aimed at stealing the company's technology and e-mail information from human-rights activists.
As soon as Google published a Jan. 12 blog post publicly challenging China's censorship polices, "it became clear that Google.cn could never operate the same way again," Internet analyst Scott Kessler of Standard & Poor's said.
Even if Web surfers in mainland China click on Google.cn to get to the Hong Kong search engine, China's government can block results by using technology controls commonly known as its "Great Firewall."
Google and the Chinese government have been trying to uphold their conflicting principles while protecting their economic interests.
Google Inc., based in Mountain View, Calif., wants to remain in China because the country is expected to be an Internet gold mine for decades. China's government seems to realize losing a technology powerhouse would be a setback in its effort to cultivate more innovation and raise its citizens' standard of living.
The latest compromise threatens to curtail Google's growth in China simply because it requires hundreds of millions of users to take an extra step to get to Google's search engine. The single additional click could diminish traffic and send Web surfers to more convenient options, such as the homegrown Baidu.com.