Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

China condemns 'groundless' US criticism of web control

Web users in Beijing have mixed feelings on internet censorship

China has denounced US criticism of its internet controls, saying it could harm ties between the two countries.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Thursday for China to lift restrictions on the internet.

Mrs Clinton also urged Beijing to investigate Google's complaints that cyber attacks had originated in China.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the US should "respect the facts" and stop making "groundless accusations against China".

Damian Grammaticas
By Damian Grammaticas, Beijing
For China, the row sparked by Google has put it in an extremely uncomfortable position. It is under the harsh glare of US scrutiny on several sensitive issues: internet censorship, the silencing of dissidents and human rights campaigners, cyber attacks launched from China, and the difficulties big US companies find doing business in China.

Hillary Clinton's criticism of internet controls would have been pretty tough for Beijing to hear. So it is no surprise it has replied robustly. But China is on the back foot in this dispute.

The statement called on the US to "handle sensitive issues in an appropriate way". Decoded, that means China would rather it was all dealt with quietly, something that does not seem likely now the argument has become so public and far-reaching.

"The US has criticised China's policies to administer the internet, and insinuated that China restricts internet freedom," he said in a statement posted on the foreign ministry website.

"This runs contrary to the facts and is harmful to China-US relations."

An article on the Communist Party's Global Times English language news website called Mrs Clinton's criticisms "information imperialism".

In a wide-ranging speech in Washington, Mrs Clinton said the internet had been a "source of tremendous progress" in China but that any country which restricted free access to information risked "walling themselves off from the progress of the next century".

She said that the US intended to address issues of internet freedom within its relationship with Beijing.

She also called for tough action against people and states that carried out cyber attacks.

The US campaign for uncensored and free flow of information on an unrestricted internet is a disguised attempt to impose its values on other cultures in the name of democracy
Global Times editorial

Google said on 12 January that hackers had tried to infiltrate its software coding and the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, in a "highly sophisticated" attack that originated from China.

Mrs Clinton called on Chinese authorities to investigate the Google complaint of cyber attacks and to make the results available.

Values 'imposed'

She also urged companies operating in China, and elsewhere, to take a "principled stand" against censorship.

Hillary Clinton: "We look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review"

"The private sector has a shared responsibility to safeguard free expression... this needs to be part of our national brand."

Chinese officials have repeatedly said that Google and other foreign internet companies were welcome to operate within China as long as they obeyed the country's laws and traditions.

When California-based Google launched in 2006, it agreed to censor some search results - such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Tibetan independence or Falun Gong - as required by the Chinese government.

12 Jan: Google says it may leave China after cyber attacks and calls for end to censorship of its search results
13 Jan: US says cyber attacks on Google "troubling"
14 Jan: China gives first reaction to Google statement: foreign firms welcome to work in China "according to law"
16 Jan: US says it will make formal protest over Google cyber attacks
21 Jan: China says its dispute with Google should not be linked to US relations
21 Jan: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticises China's internet controls and urges Beijing to investigate Google attacks
22 Jan: China rejects Mrs Clinton's criticism as "groundless"

In her speech, Mrs Clinton also singled out countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan as having boosted censorship or harassed bloggers.

China's state-controlled media reacted angrily to the speech.

The Global Times said: "The US campaign for uncensored and free flow of information on an unrestricted internet is a disguised attempt to impose its values on other cultures in the name of democracy."

Imbalances in the "global information order" favoured the West and so countries like China, which were disadvantaged in this order, needed to take steps "to protect their national interest", the editorial said.

"China's real stake in the 'free flow of information' is evident in its refusal to be victimised by information imperialism."

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