Stop complaining about our Web censorship, China says

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told reporters yesterday that the country censors the Internet to "safeguard the public."

China's long history of Internet censorship is what's best for the public, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters yesterday.

According to Reuters, which spoke with Yu in an interview published today, China believes that its "Internet management" is not only "lawful," but is designed to "safeguard the public."

"We are willing to work with countries and communicate with them on the development of the Internet and to work together to promote the sound development of the Internet," Yu told Reuters and other reporters that were at the press conference. "But we do not accept using the excuse of 'Internet freedom' to interfere in other countries' internal practices."

Yu's comments were a direct response to a letter sent to China earlier this week by U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Michael Punke. According to Reuters, which obtained a copy of the letter, Punke argued that China's Web blockade diminishes the ability for many U.S. companies to compete against China's counterparts.

China is widely considered the next important frontier for Web companies. The country currently has over 450 million Web users, and that figure is growing each day. However, as part of its censorship activities, China has blocked a host of Web sites, including Facebook and YouTube, in an effort to control what information gets into the country.

China has been especially protective against the possibility of government criticism finding its way to its shores. Last year, China blocked Foursquare to stem any criticism over the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. The country has also engaged in a vicious censorship battle with Google that eventually sent the Web giant to Hong Kong to power its Chinese search tool.

The latest public spat between China and the U.S. over Web censorship is somewhat tame compared to prior battles between the countries . Last year, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said that U.S. complaints over China's censorship could prove to hurt relations between the country and the U.S.

"The U.S. has criticized China's policies to administer the Internet and insinuated that China restricts Internet freedom...This runs contrary to the facts and is harmful to China-U.S. relations," the spokesman said.

Those comments followed a speech made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who denounced Web censorship and urged American companies to unite in a battle against it.

"Censorship should not be accepted by any company from anywhere," Clinton said, citing China. "American companies need to make a principled stand. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate in the name of progress."

But it's that assembly of people that China is so worried about. And in August, state-run media organization Xinhua made that abundantly clear in a story discussing the growth of microblogging services and blogs, and how rumors shared on those services are hurting the country.

"The rapid advance of this flood has also brought 'mud and sand'--the spread of rumors--and to nurture a healthy Internet, we must thoroughly eradicate the soil in which rumors grow," Xinhua wrote. "Concocting rumors is itself a social malady, and the spread of rumors across the Internet presents a massive social threat."

But try as it might to censor the Internet, China isn't having such an easy go of it. For years, the country has taken aim at blogs, and in 2006, there were 60 million active in China. The latest estimates suggest China now has hundreds of millions of blogs and microblogs, and 195 million people across the country are using microblogging services.

 

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