China fired back today at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her criticism of that country's Internet censorship, calling her words "against the facts" and warning that such talk could harm China-U.S. relations.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu this morning warned, "The U.S. side had criticized China's policies on Internet administration, alluding that China restricts Internet freedom. We firmly oppose such words and deeds, which were against the facts and would harm the China-U.S. relations."
In a speech on Internet freedom in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Clinton cautioned China about the dangers of censorship.
"The Internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China and it's great that so many people there are now online," said Clinton, who also ordered a thorough investigation of the hacking of human rights activists' Google Gmail accounts.
"But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century."
China's Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei was emphatic Thursday that "the Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries: otherwise it's an over-interpretation."
Tensions between Google and China arose last week when Google announced it had been the victim of cyber attacks, traced to China, that targeted the e-mail accounts of human rights activists both in China and overseas.
Google said it could "no longer in good conscience continue to filter or censor" its search engine in China. Internet searches for sensitive terms such as "Dalai Lama" and "Tiananmen Square" are blocked in China.
Chinese officials have repeatedly issued the statement that foreign companies operating in China must abide by her traditions and laws.
State-run media has largely echoed that sentiment, with some anti-Google analysts speculating that the threat to leave China is really an excuse to pull out of a losing business. Google trails a distant second to the leading Baidu search engine but it is still thought to make roughly $200 million a year from its Chinese operation.
Since the stand-off began, Google has postponed the release of two mobile phones in China and its 700-odd staff here remain unaware of their fate.
Analysts say there is little chance that Google.cn will be able to continue but that Google hopes it can maintain the rest of its business here. The most lucrative part of its business in China is from Chinese companies buying ad space on the U.S. version of Google.
The Chinese government has so far refrained from giving Google a public dressing down, possibly an indication that it is still undecided on how to handle the situation. It's not clear when talks between Google and the government will come to a resolution and with China's massive New Year holiday beginning in a few weeks, it could be awhile.