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China denies role in Internet attacks

Spokesman goes on offensive

A cultural inspection official installed a surveillance camera in an Internet cafe in Suining in China’s Sichuan province. A cultural inspection official installed a surveillance camera in an Internet cafe in Suining in China’s Sichuan province. (Associated Press)
By Gillian Wong
Associated Press / January 26, 2010

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BEIJING - China sharply rebuked the United States yesterday, denying involvement in any Internet attacks and defending its online restrictions as lawful after Washington urged Beijing to investigate an attack against Google.

The search engine giant announced on Jan. 12 that it would pull out of China unless the government relaxes its rules on censorship.

The ultimatum came after Google said e-mail accounts of human rights activists critical of China had been hacked.

Since then, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has criticized the censorship of cyberspace, drawing a strong counterattack from Beijing. The Foreign Ministry on Friday said her remarks damaged bilateral relations, while a Chinese state newspaper said Washington was imposing “information imperialism’’ on China.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology went on the offensive again, saying the country’s antihacking policy is transparent and consistent.

“Any accusation that the Chinese government participated in cyberattacks, either in an explicit or indirect way, is groundless and aims to discredit China,’’ an unidentified ministry spokesman said, according to a transcript of an interview with the official Xinhua News Agency posted on the ministry’s website.

The increasingly heated environment is likely to pose challenges to negotiating an arrangement that would suit both Google’s and China’s interests.

The company says it remains optimistic it can persuade China’s ruling party to loosen restrictions on free expression on the Internet, so it can keep doing business in the country. However, China’s government has given little indication it’s willing to budge.

“Increasingly, the line emerging from the Chinese government is harder and less open to compromise,’’ said Russell Leigh Moses, an analyst of Chinese politics based in Beijing. “Hillary Clinton’s speech was seen by many officials here as the United States’ laying down a marker and put matters in a more confrontational mode.’’

In Washington, US State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton had put forth a vision that the United States believes is shared around the world.

“We are aware that China has a different position with respect to restricting information,’’ Crowley said, citing tightened Web controls in China last year around anniversaries like that of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

“We think this is inconsistent with the information environment and prerequisites of the 21st century.’’

Internet control is considered a critical matter of state security in China. Beijing promotes Internet use for commerce, but heavily censors content it deems pornographic, antisocial, or politically subversive and blocks many foreign news and social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, and the popular video-sharing site YouTube.