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China plays down Google spat before Clinton speech

world Updated: Jan 21, 2010 16:52 IST
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Google's dispute with China should not be "over-interpreted" or seen as influencing Sino-U.S. ties, a senior Chinese minister said on Thursday before a planned speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Internet freedom.

Clinton's speech planned for Washington on Thursday could be seen in Beijing as throwing down a gauntlet, a week after search engine giant Google said it had been the target of sophisticated cyber-spying from China.

"The Google incident should not be linked to bilateral relations, otherwise that would be over-interpreting it," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei as saying.

"In the year that (President Barack) Obama has been in office, the development of China-U.S. relations has been basically stable," He said, according to the website of the China Daily (www.chinadaily.com.cn).

He appeared to be seeking to play down potential fallout from the Google dispute, which could compound tensions with Washington over trade, currency policy, human rights and climate change.

"The Chinese government encourages the development of the Internet in China, but there must be observance of Chinese law," He said in comments to Chinese journalists carried on the China Daily's website.

"If Google or other foreign firms have any problems in China, these should be resolved according to Chinese law, and the Chinese government is willing to help resolve their problems."

CYBER-ATTACK

Google, the world's top search engine, said it may shut its Chinese-language google.cn website and offices in China after a cyber-attack originating from China that also targeted others.

The company also said it would discuss with the Chinese government ways to offer an unfiltered search engine, or pull out. Searches for sensitive topics on google.cn are still largely being censored.

Many in China see Google's ultimatum as a business tactic because it loses market share to the popular Chinese search site Baidu. Despite extensive public debate of the Google issue in China, hacking has been rarely mentioned in official media.

"Managing the Internet is a matter of national security. A lot of countries practise oversight of the Internet, and so does China. It is a very normal thing," he said.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China.

Weighing into the debate, Jack Ma, the outspoken chief executive of the country's largest e-commerce firm Alibaba, said this week Google was looking for "excuses" by blaming China.

Ma's statement at an economic forum in Taiwan were Alibaba's second condemnation of the U.S. search engine's face-off with Beijing following charges of the cyber-attack.

"People who fail always make excuses," said Jack Ma.

"I think there are how many foreign firms that have come to China and fallen, five or six? And there are more than 5,000 fallen Chinese firms," he said. "They say they lack government connections, lack money, lack whatever. These are just excuses."

Alibaba Group, in which Yahoo Inc owns a 40 percent stake, runs Taobao, China's largest online retailer, and China's largest e-commerce website Alibaba.com.

Alibaba said in a statement earlier that Yahoo's comment that it stood aligned with Google's position was "reckless".

Google said it no longer wanted to censor its Chinese Google.cn search site and wanted to talk with Beijing about offering a legal, unfiltered Chinese site.

The Chinese-language search site makes money but neither the firm nor China's 384 million Internet users would take a big hit if it were withdrawn, said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting Ltd in Beijing.

In the United States, Microsoft Corp said it would issue a patch to fix the old version of its Internet Explorer browser that allowed attacks on the Google network in China.

The patch, due out on Thursday, "addresses the vulnerability related to recent attacks against Google and a small subset of corporations," said Jerry Bryant, senior security program manager at Microsoft.