GoogleBy Robert MacMillan

You can find the clearest statement about what’s happening with Google and its threat to quit China over the country’s human rights record in Xinhua, China’s state-run news service – seriously.

“It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows,” an unnamed official told Xinhua. Here’s another comment from the story: “It will not make any difference to the government if Google quits China, however Google will suffer a huge economic loss from leaving the Chinese market.” That’s from Guo Ke, a communications professor at Shanghai International Studies University.

And that’s what you need to know: Google is taking a stand, challenging China to bring its human rights record into line with what it considers its most important tenet: “Don’t be evil.” Now everyone wants to know if other companies also will discover the ethicist inside them and find a purpose more important than making money for shareholders.

It’s unlikely that they will.

What we probably will hear is an unprecedented level of noise as companies reaffirm their commitments to the definition of human rights that most of the western world embraces, and that will be that.

It is difficult for companies to justify to shareholders anything other than bringing in profits that, if things go well, steadily increase over time and outperform Wall Street analysts’ expectations. Sure, Google gets a small amount of revenue now from China, but it has been investing there and sees more money in China a few years down the road. So does everyone.