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Internet censorship: China lashes out at US,says criticism baseless

The Chinese Foreign Ministry lashed out on Friday against criticism of China in a speech on Internet censorship made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton...

Written by New York Times | Beijing |
January 23, 2010 2:16:28 am

The Chinese Foreign Ministry lashed out on Friday against criticism of China in a speech on Internet censorship made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton,calling on the US government “to respect the truth and to stop using the so-called Internet freedom question to level baseless accusations.”

Ma Zhaoxu,a Foreign Ministry spokesman,said in a written statement posted on Friday afternoon on the ministry’s website that the criticism leveled by Hillary was “harmful to Sino-American relations”. “The Chinese Internet is open,” he said.

The statement by the Foreign Ministry,along with a scathing editorial in the English-language edition of The Global Times,signalled that China was ready to wrestle politically with the US in the debate over Internet censorship.

US President Barack Obama promised last year to start a more conciliatory era in US-China relations,pushing human rights issues to the background,but the new criticism of China’s Internet censorship and rising tensions over currency valuation and Taiwan arms sales indicate that animus could flare in the months ahead.

Hillary’s sweeping speech with its cold war undertones — likening the information curtain to the Iron Curtain — criticised several countries by name,including China,for Internet censorship. It was the first speech in which a top administration official offered a vision for making Internet freedom an integral part of foreign policy.

The debate over Internet censorship was brought to the fore in China last week when Google announced it might shut down its Chinese-language search engine,Google.cn,and curtail its other operations in mainland China if Chinese officials did not back down from requiring Google to censor search results.

On Thursday,He Yafei,a vice-Foreign Minister,had said the Google dispute should not be “over-interpreted” or linked to the bilateral relationship with the US,according to Xinhua,the official state news agency.

But in the aftermath of Hillary’s speech,that attitude could be changing. Hillary said that “a new information curtain is descending across much of the world” and identified China as one of a handful of countries that had stepped up Internet censorship in the past year. She also praised US companies such as Google that are “making the issue of Internet and information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions.”

In its editorial,The Global Times said Hillary “had raised the stakes in Washington’s clash with Beijing over Internet freedom”. The US’s “ideological imposition is unacceptable and,for that reason,will not be allowed to succeed”,it said.

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