BEIJING (AFP) – China on Friday rejected criticism of its Internet censorship by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying it harmed relations, as a row over Google’s threat to leave the Chinese market escalated.
Clinton had urged China on Thursday to conduct a thorough probe into cyberattacks on Google and other US companies, and lamented what she said was Beijing’s increasing efforts to control what its 384 million web users can see.
“We firmly oppose such words and deeds, which go against the facts and are harmful to China-US relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said, in China’s strongest comments since the Google dispute erupted last week.
“We urge the United States to respect facts, and stop using the so-called Internet freedom issue to criticise China unreasonably,” he said in a statement posted on the ministry website.
In a major policy speech on Internet freedom in Washington, Clinton reiterated US support for “a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas”.
She called on China “to conduct a thorough investigation of the cyber intrusions” revealed by Google and for “its results to be transparent”.
The two sides have become locked in a spiralling dispute over Chinese web controls sparked by Internet giant Google’s announcement last week it would no longer obey China’s censorship rules and might pull out of the country.
Google said the decision was made after it suffered cyberattacks that the company believes originated in China and appeared aimed at cracking the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
China’s government declined to respond to AFP requests Friday for comment on a possible investigation of the attacks.
Until Friday, Beijing had generally held fire in the dispute, defending its censorship as necessary and saying foreign firms must comply, but refraining from hitting back at mounting US criticism over its control of the Internet.
China is believed to employ thousands of people in a vast system of Internet censorship that has been dubbed the “Great Firewall of China,” which polices what the world’s largest online population can see and do on the web. Related article: Google to stop censoring China Web results: CEO
Beijing regularly invokes the need to stamp out pornography as a key reason for the controls, but critics contend its primary purpose is to quell political dissent or content seen as threatening to Communist Party rule.
Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Cisco are among the US technology giants that have been accused of cooperating with the “Great Firewall” by acquiescing to Beijing’s demands.
In her speech, Clinton appeared to call on other companies to follow Google’s lead and defy China. Related article: Baidu sues US firm over cyberattacks
“The private sector has a shared responsibility to help safeguard free expression,” Clinton said.
“And when their business dealings threaten to undermine this freedom, they need to consider what’s right, not simply the prospect of quick profits.”
The State Department has plans to hold a high-level meeting next month with companies that provide network services for talks on Internet freedom. Related article: Challenges of China Internet market
Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt said the California company would like to remain in China, but could no longer agree to censor results on its Web search engine there.
“We continue to follow their laws, we continue to offer censored results,” Schmidt, warning that “in a reasonably short time from now, we will be making some changes there”.
Microsoft on Thursday released a patch for an Internet Explorer 6 software hole through which China-based cyber spies allegedly probed the computer systems of Google and other companies.
On Thursday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei was quoted by state media as saying the Google case should not be linked with Sino-US relations.
Ma on Friday also urged the United States not to let the dispute upset relations, which are already dogged by a range of disputes over trade and currency issues, US arms sales to Taiwan, and climate change.
Ma said China hoped both sides would “respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, properly handle differences and sensitive issues to maintain the healthy and steady development of Sino-US relations”.
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