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Beijing official warns Google to obey China's laws

Minister of Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong cautions that the search giant must adhere to China's laws on censorship.

A Chinese government minister has issued a stern warning to Google in the event the company stops filtering search results at its Chinese Web site: Follow our laws, or else.

Speaking to reporters at the National People's Congress on Friday, Chinese Minister of Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong said he hopes Google will respect China's rules and regulations. But, according to several press reports, he cautioned the company: "If you insist on taking this action that violates Chinese laws, I repeat: you are unfriendly and irresponsible, and you yourself will have to bear the consequences."

In January, Google set off alarm bells in the Chinese government when it announced that it would stop filtering search results at its Web site. The company has been criticized in the past by privacy advocates for censoring search results deemed objectionable by the Chinese government. But such censorship has been one of the costs of doing business in a country where the Communist leadership keeps a tight lid on what its people can see. Content deemed harmful to Chinese citizens, everything from pornography to political debate, is simply filtered out.

The search giant's defiant stance was prompted as well by cyberattacks that have hit Google and other companies, aimed at compromising the Gmail accounts of several human rights activists in China and elsewhere. Google has identified China as the source of the attacks though has not revealed the specific people behind them. For its part, the Chinese government has denied any involvement.

Google has been negotiating with key agencies in China to determine whether it can run with or without restrictions, and whether closing its Chinese search engine might impact other business ventures in the country. On Wednesday, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that the negotiations with the Chinese government should result in a decision and resolution soon.

Also on Wednesday, Google deputy general counsel Nicole Wong told the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that the company is "no longer willing to censor its search results in China" and is currently reviewing its options. Wong added that if Google can't achieve its objectives, it will reconsider its approach to China.

Whatever Google decides to do with, the company isn't likely to exit China completely, according to the Wall Street Journal, (subscription required) citing people familiar with the matter. A person familiar with the talks said that Google could made agreements with different Chinese agencies to operate each business segment separately, according to the Journal.

Minister Li told reporters that should Google abide by the rules, the company would be welcome to stay and expand in China. But he said that China's Internet would continue to grow with or without Google.