China slams Clinton's call for Internet freedom

China on Friday slammed remarks made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promoting Internet freedom worldwide, saying her words harmed U.S.-China relations.

China resolutely opposes Clinton's remarks and it is not true that the country restricts online freedom, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement on the ministry's Web site.

Clinton's speech and China's response both come after Google last week said it planned to reverse its long-standing position in China by ending censorship of its Chinese search engine. Google cited increasingly tough censorship and recent cyberattacks on the Gmail accounts of human rights activists for its decision, which it said might force it to close its offices in China altogether.

China blocks Web sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and has long forced domestic Internet companies to censor their own services. Blog providers, for instance, are expected to delete user posts that include pornographic content or talk of sensitive political issues.

On Thursday in Washington, D.C., Clinton unveiled U.S. initiatives to help people living under repressive governments access the Internet for purposes such as reporting corruption. The U.S. will support circumvention tools for dissidents whose Internet connections are blocked, she said.

China's Ma called for the U.S. "to respect the facts and stop using the issue of so-called Internet freedom to unreasonably criticize China." Chinese law forbids hacking attacks and violations of citizens' privacy, the statement said, apparently referring to the issues raised by Google.

"China's constitution protects the right of citizens to free speech and promoting development of the Internet has been our consistent policy," the statement said. "China has its own national condition and cultural traditions."

U.S. "information hegemony" was also criticized in the state-run newspaper China Daily on Friday in an article about how the Internet is regulated.

China officially had 384 million Internet users at the end of last month, the most in any country.

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Owen Fletcher

IDG News Service

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