Beijing has reacted angrily to the speech of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling it an unjustified attack on China
The frosty atmosphere between the United States and China deepened on Friday after Beijing called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on Internet freedoms, an unjustified attack on China.
Clinton had called for an uncensored Internet, free from cyber-attacks and intellectual property theft. China, in particular, Clinton said, should conduct a thorough investigation of the cyber-intrusions that led Google to threaten to close its operations in China.
The speech came a little more than a week after Google informed State Department officials that the search giant, and as many as 30 other US companies were victims of cyber-attacks generated from within China. In Google’s case, the attacks were aimed at gaining access to the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.
Beijing was unimpressed.
“We are firmly opposed to these words and deeds which are against the facts and damage Sino-US relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement. “We urge the US side to respect facts and stop using the issue of so-called Internet freedom to make unjustified attacks on China.”
Clinton said the Internet “has already been a source of tremendous progress in China, and it is fabulous there are so many people in China now online.” However, she added, “The United States and China have different views on this issue. And we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship.”
In response to the attacks, Google said 12 January it will stop censoring searches on its Google.cn and reconsider the feasibility of even doing business in China. In 2006, Google agreed to censor searches on Google.cn, a decision defended by Google at the time as a “judgement that Google.cn will make a meaningful – though imperfect – contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China.”
As of 22 January, Google said it was still censoring certain searches on Google.cn.
“Censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere,” Clinton said. “American companies need to make a principled stand. This needs to be part of our national brand. I’m confident that consumers worldwide will reward companies that follow those principles.”
After Google complained to the US State Department about the intrusions, Beijing strongly defended its Internet policies.
Minister Wang Chen of China’s State Council Information Office said in a Reuters interview, “Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts. Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu added in another interview, “China welcomes international Internet businesses developing services in China according to the law.”
Google’s possible pullback from China comes at a time when Washington is attempting to persuade Beijing to curb its Internet censorship policies as part of the United States’ larger policy initiatives involving the intellectual property rights of companies doing business in China, where piracy rates are high.
Speaking in Beijing last November, President Obama told Chinese students participating in an online town hall meeting, “I’ve always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I’m a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States.”
Following the cyber-attacks reported by Google, Clinton said in a statement: “We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation.”