China's strict controls on its Internet usage will eventually fail as more of the country's people go online and express themselves, said Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
"Ultimately, the people will win over the government. The yearning is so strong," he said Wednesday during a talk hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.
Schmidt's comments come several months after Google announced it would stop censoring its search results in China. But even as Google has attempted to provide unfiltered search results by redirecting users in China to the company's Hong Kong search engine, the Chinese government continues to block certain searches.
China currently has 420 million Internet users, according to Chinese government statistics. But certain sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked. At the same time, China heavily invests into policing the web, using a large organization of regulators that are estimated to number from 30,000 to 50,000, Schmidt said.
Still, the sheer number of Chinese people using the Internet in coming years will push such monitoring past its limits, he added. Currently, the country has more than 800 million mobile phone users, many of whom are starting to use their handsets to go online.
"The question is at what point will there be so many Chinese people online that such mechanisms break down in terms of censorship and so forth?" he said. "If you think about the scale, they've got a billion phones that are trying to express themselves. It will be difficult in my view to completely keep up with that."
Google continues to operate offices in China. But the country has since seen its market share steadily drop in the country. Now the company controls 21.6% of the search engine market, a significant drop from the 35.6 it held at the end of 2009, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. China's Baidu currently dominates the market with a 73% share.