BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chinese media on Friday dismissed Washington’s call to lift Internet censorship, after a top Chinese diplomat warned the Obama administration to heed alarm bells over trade, Taiwan and Tibet.
The Chinese government had no immediate response to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on Thursday calling for China and other authoritarian governments to lift their curbs on citizens’ use of the Internet.
Clinton’s speech raised contention with Beijing over the cyber policy, which flared after Google Inc, the world’s biggest search engine operator, last week warned it could pull out of China over complaints about hacking and censorship.
“A new information curtain is descending across much of the world,” said Clinton, calling growing Internet curbs the present-day equivalent of the Berlin Wall, contravening international commitments to free expression.
Clinton also urged Beijing to investigate the complaint about cyber spying from China that Google said targeted it and dozens of other companies, as well as Chinese dissidents.
The Internet has joined trade imbalances, U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, and tensions over human rights and Tibet among the quarrels straining ties between the world’s biggest and third biggest economies.
China is likely to hit back at what it sees as meddling by Washington, and state-run newspapers already took swipes.
“The United States’ so-called Internet freedom is freedom under U.S. control,” the Global Times said on its web site.
“There’s some wishful thinking in the United States making Internet freedom a state policy to be preached to other countries,” the tabloid quoted one Chinese scholar as saying.
Other Chinese news web sites echoed those criticisms, though none cited any official reaction from Beijing.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China, which uses a filtering “firewall” to prevent Internet users from seeing overseas web sites with news anathema to the Communist Party.
On Thursday, however, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei played down the dispute with Google, and laid out other worries that could deepen strains with Washington.
“This year, China and the United States — especially the U.S. — must both carefully handle the issues of weapons sales to Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, and trade frictions,” He said in comments reported by the official China News Service late on Thursday.
“How these issues are handled rests on whether political leaders, especially the U.S. government, can show political decisiveness,” said He in remarks made before Clinton spoke.
This month, China denounced the U.S. sale of Patriot air defense missiles, capable of intercepting Chinese missiles, to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
China announced its own anti-missile test soon after the U.S. unveiled the Patriot sales to Taiwan.
Beijing has warned that more U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan could badly bruise relations with Washington, and has urged President Barack Obama not to meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist leader of Tibet who Beijing denounces as a separatist.
The two global heavyweights are also at odds over trade and currency policies, with Washington saying Beijing has stoked global economic balances and a U.S. trade deficit by holding down the value of its yuan currency.
Beijing accuses Washington of protectionism by pursuing a raft of anti-dumping cases over Chinese exports, including tires and steel products.
With tensions mounting and Beijing eager to woo foreign investors, Vice Minister He said the row over Google should not be linked to bilateral ties.
Google 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 Internet giant said it no longer wanted to censor its Chinese Google.cn site and wanted to talk with Beijing about offering a legal, unfiltered Chinese site. Searches for sensitive topics on Google.cn are still largely being censored.
Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani