China defends censorship, plays down Google harm on US ties

China defended its Internet censorship rules and played down any effect on China-U.S. ties after Google started redirecting Chinese users to an uncensored version of its search engine.

But the statements by Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang also gave little hint as to how China might react to Google’s move, which Google says is fully legal but that China could potentially see as granting users in the country access to banned information.

“What is meant to be warded off is information that threatens national security and society’s public interest,” Qin said at a regular news briefing.

Google late Monday started redirecting users to Google.com.hk, its Hong Kong-based search engine, when they visit its China-based search engine at Google.cn. Google conformed with Chinese regulations for over four years by censoring certain politically sensitive and other results on the China-based site, but the Hong Kong site offers uncensored search service.

Qin did not say if the new arrangement would violate Chinese regulations, but said companies operating in China must follow the country’s laws and that the government would resolve problems accordingly.

Qin also said Google’s move was an action by an individual company and would not affect China’s ties with the U.S. unless other actors politicized the issue.

“Harm has not been done to China’s image, but to Google’s,” he said.

China requires online search providers and other Internet companies to filter information relating to sensitive topics such as the Dalai Lama, who is the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, and the Tiananmen Square democracy protests of 1989 in Beijing. Such information is not censored in Hong Kong, which is part of China but governs itself.

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