Just in time for the 18th Communist Party Congress, all Google services have suddenly been blocked in China. Traffic fell off Friday according to the Google Transparency Report.

“We’ve checked and there’s nothing wrong on our end,” Google said in a statement. So what is wrong, then?

Search, Gmail and Maps are all blocked, and searches for Google services are being rerouted via DNS spoofing to another site located in Korea. This blackout kicked in at the outset of the Communist Party Congress, a major event that takes place every ten years at which the government’s new leadership is appointed through a secretive process.

While we don’t yet have comment from Chinese officials, the two possibile causes are government restrictions or a doozie of a job by hackers. Given the timing and the extent of the outage, an official intervention seems more likely. Either way, Google’s response will be seen as a test of its character. How much is Google willing to put up with to do business in the Chinese market.

Not The First Time

Google blockages in China are hardly new. YouTube has been blocked in China since 2009, and other services have been blocked on and off for periods of time, usually surrounding politically sensitive world news events. To keep its other properties up and running, Google agreed to censor its services in accordance with Chinese demands. In 2010, Google finally took a stand, pulling out of mainland China and redirecting users to uncensored results from Hong Kong.

It wasn’t an easy decision, though. China’s enormous and growing market is too tempting for an data-driven, ad-supported company like Google to ignore. Even as it was threatening to pull out of the country, it was making deals with Chinese media companies and trying to secure a foothold there. It wasn’t until Chinese hackers started targeting Google users that Google pulled out.

But just two years later, this January, Google headed back to China, hiring engineers, salespeople and product managers, building new consumer Web services, and pushing Android in the country’s booming mobile market.

What Will Google Do?

It will be interesting to see how Google responds to this latest blockade. In 2012, Google has taken great strides to protect its users from state-sponsored attacks, going so far as to create a warning banner for users who are under attack linking to ways for the user to protect his or her account. Google also publishes detailed transparency reports highlighting all government requests for user data as well as disruptions to its traffic around the world.

This latest issue will likely add new scrutiny to the search giant’s efforts to balance its global ambitions with geopolitical realities and the need be seen as impartial.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.