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Obama wants 'answers' from China over Google attacks

Stephen Collinson

US President Barack Obama is "troubled" by cyber attacks on Google and wants answers from China, the White House said on Friday.

US President Barack Obama is “troubled” by cyber attacks on Google and wants answers from China, the White House said on Friday.

The State Department said meanwhile that US and Chinese diplomats have held several meetings to discuss the attacks, which Google said targeted the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists, and more talks were expected.

“We are having high-level meetings and we will continue to have meetings and we will continue to press this issue aggressively,” State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said. “We will continue to seek an explanation from China.

“A blanket denial that nothing happened we don’t think is particularly helpful,” Crowley added.

Obama is also looking to Beijing to shed light on the cyber attacks which have prompted Google to say it will stop censoring web search results in China, a move that may force it to leave the country entirely.

“As the president has said, he continues to be troubled by the cybersecurity breach that Google attributes to China,” White House deputy spokesperson Bill Burton said. “As Secretary [Hillary] Clinton said yesterday, all we are looking for from China are some answers.”

Clinton on Thursday urged Beijing to conduct a thorough investigation into the cyber attacks on Google and other US firms and criticised China and other nations for censoring the web and restricting the “free flow of information”.

The secretary of state’s comments, in a wide-ranging speech on internet freedom, drew the strongest reaction to date from China since the Google dispute erupted last week.

“We firmly oppose such words and deeds, which go against the facts and are harmful to China-US relations,” foreign ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said. “We urge the United States to respect facts and stop using the so-called internet freedom issue to criticise China unreasonably.”

Ma urged the United States not to let the Google row upset relations, which are already dogged by a range of disputes over trade and currency issues, US arms sales to Taiwan and climate change.

Ma said China hoped both sides would “respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, properly handle differences and sensitive issues to maintain the healthy and steady development of Sino-US relations”.

State Department spokesperson Crowley said the United States had “taken note” of the Chinese foreign ministry’s statement but had no further comment.

He said the latest US-China meeting had been between Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and the Chinese ambassador here, Zhou Wenzhong.

He said Clinton’s speech, Google and the “broader aspects of our relationship” were discussed.

“We have a broad relationship with China,” Crowley said. “We think that it is far more stable than it has been in some time. That said, we have a range of issues where we have, you know, disagreements.”

He also said that Washington had “not yet” made a formal request to Beijing known as a “demarche” asking for an explanation for the cyber attacks on Google.

A senior State Department official told reporters that while the United States and China have differences on the issue of Internet freedom, Clinton’s speech “was not directed at China individually”.

Asked about China’s public posture and the diplomatic talks, the official said: “There are things that China does for public consumption and that may or may not reflect the conversations that we have in private.”

“The Chinese understood the context of the secretary’s speech and that it wasn’t specifically directed at them,” said the official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity.

Google has not yet stopped censoring search results on google.cn, but Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said on Thursday it will happen soon.

“We continue to follow their laws, we continue to offer censored results. But in a reasonably short time from now we will be making some changes there,” Schmidt said.

China is believed to employ thousands of people in a vast system of internet censorship dubbed the “Great Firewall of China,” which polices what the world’s largest online population can see and do on the web.

Beijing regularly invokes the need to stamp out pornography as a key reason for the controls but critics contend its primary purpose is to quell political dissent or content seen as threatening to Communist Party rule. - AFP

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