BEIJING — China sharply rebuked the United States on Monday, denying involvement in any Internet attacks and defending its online restrictions as lawful after Washington urged Beijing to investigate an attack against Google.
The search engine giant announced on Jan. 12 that it would pull out of China unless the government relaxes its rules on censorship. The ultimatum came after Google said e-mail accounts of human rights activists critical of China had been hacked.
Since then, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has criticized the censorship of cyberspace, drawing a strong counterattack from Beijing. The Foreign Ministry on Friday said her remarks damaged bilateral relations, while a Chinese state newspaper said Washington was imposing "information imperialism" on China.
On Monday, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology went on the offensive again, saying the country's anti-hacking policy is transparent and consistent.
"Any accusation that the Chinese government participated in cyberattacks, either in an explicit or indirect way, is groundless and aims to discredit China," an unidentified ministry spokesman said, according to a transcript of an interview with the official Xinhua News Agency posted on the ministry's Web site.
The increasingly heated environment is likely to pose challenges to negotiating an arrangement that would suit both Google's and China's interests.
The company says it remains optimistic it can persuade China's ruling party to loosen restrictions on free expression on the Internet, so it can keep doing business in the country. However, China's government has given little indication it's willing to budge.
"Increasingly, the line emerging from the Chinese government is harder and less open to compromise," said Russell Leigh Moses, an analyst of Chinese politics based in Beijing. "Hillary Clinton's speech was seen by many officials here as the United States' laying down a marker and put matters in a more confrontational mode."
In Washington, U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton had put forth a vision that the U.S. believes is shared around the world.
"We are aware that China has a different position with respect to restricting information," Crowley said, citing tightened Web controls in China last year around anniversaries like that of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. "We think this is inconsistent with the information environment and prerequisites of the 21st century."
"We will continue to promote the free flow of information, unfettered access to information, the ability to have virtual freedom of association," Crowley said. "We will not back away from advocating that this should be something that all countries should promote."
Xinhua also cited the State Council, China's Cabinet, as criticizing what it called interference in the country's domestic affairs.
Internet control is considered a critical matter of state security in China. Beijing promotes Internet use for commerce, but heavily censors content it deems pornographic, anti-social or politically subversive and blocks many foreign news and social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, and the popular video-sharing site YouTube.
Google said it had uncovered a computer attack that tried to plunder its software coding and the Gmail accounts of human rights activists protesting Chinese policies. The company traced the attacks on its computers to hackers in China, but hasn't directly tied them to the Chinese government or its agents.
A Chinese Internet security official questioned the allegation, saying Google had not reported its complaints to China's National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team.
Zhou Yonglin, the team's deputy chief of operations, also said the team logged attacks on 262,000 Chinese computers last year by hackers implanting malicious software such as Trojans, which can allow outside access to the target's computer. More than 16 percent of the attacks came from computers located in the U.S., he said.
Associated Press writer Matt Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
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