China cites law in Google clash

Says firms must help ensure safety

Hong Kong activists unfurled a banner yesterday supporting Google in its censorship dispute with China. Supporters also left flowers and notes at Google’s offices in China. Hong Kong activists unfurled a banner yesterday supporting Google in its censorship dispute with China. Supporters also left flowers and notes at Google’s offices in China. (Jerome Favre/Bloomberg News)
By Joe McDonald
Associated Press / January 15, 2010

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BEIJING - In China’s first official response to Google’s threat to leave the country, the government said yesterday that foreign Internet companies are welcome but must obey the law and gave no hint of a possible compromise over Web censorship.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, without mentioning Google by name, said Beijing prohibits e-mail hacking, another issue cited by the company. She was responding to questions about Google at a regular ministry briefing.

“China’s Internet is open,’’ Jiang said. “China welcomes international Internet enterprises to conduct business in China according to law.’’

Google Inc. said Tuesday that it would stop censoring search results in China and that it might shut down its China-based site, citing attempts to break into accounts on its Gmail service used by human rights activists.

Jiang gave no indication whether the government had talked with Google. The state Xinhua News Agency said earlier that officials were seeking more information about its announcement.

The main Communist Party newspaper warned companies to obey government controls as Web users visited Google’s Beijing offices for a second day to leave flowers and notes expressing support for the company.

Peoples Daily, citing a Cabinet official’s comments in November, said companies must help the government keep the Internet safe and fight online pornography and cyberattacks.

Web companies must abide by “propaganda discipline,’’ the official, Wang Chen, was quoted as saying. “Companies have to concretely increase the ability of Internet media to guide public opinion in order to uphold Internet safety.’’

Also yesterday, a law professor and human rights lawyer, Teng Biao, wrote on his blog that someone broke into his Gmail account and forwarded e-mail to another account. Teng said he did not know whether he was one of two Chinese activists mentioned by Google as hacking targets.

“Google leaving China makes people sad, but accepting censorship to stay in China and abandoning its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ principles is more than just sad,’’ Teng wrote.

Another Beijing human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, says his Gmail account was hacked in November and important materials taken, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group announced. Jiang has represented Tibetan activists and advised people with AIDS who are seeking government help.

Outside the Google offices, some visitors poured small glasses of liquor, a Chinese funeral ritual.

Google’s main US site has a Chinese-language section but Beijing’s filters make that slow and difficult to access from China.

Beijing promotes Internet use for business and education but operates extensive filters to block access to material deemed subversive or pornographic, including sites run by dissidents and human rights groups. Its market of 338 million Internet users is the world’s most populous.

The Global Times, published by Peoples Daily and known for a fiercely nationalistic tone, took an unusually conciliatory stance yesterday, warning that Google’s departure would be a “lose-lose situation’’ for China.

“Google is taking extreme measures but it is reminding us that we should pay attention to the issue of the free flow of information,’’ the newspaper said. It said China’s national influence and competitiveness depend on access to information and added, “We have to advance with the times.’’