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Google, Yahoo, Microsoft urge U.S. to get involved in China censorship fight

Google, Yahoo and Microsoft--criticized for acquiescing to Chinese censorship rules--say the U.S. government should be doing more to get China to loosen up.

In lieu of sending executives to appear before a Congressional Human Rights Caucus hearing on Wednesday, the companies sent statements.

"In addition to common action by Internet companies, there is an important role for the United States government to address, in the context of its bilateral government-to-government relationships, the larger issues of free expression and open communication. For example, as a U.S.-based company that deals primarily in information, we have urged the United States government to treat censorship as a barrier to trade," Google's senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin wrote in a statement posted on the Google Blog.

Google is discussing industry guidelines for all countries subjecting Internet content to restrictions. It is also continuing its outreach with academic experts, activists and others to discuss the issues.

"While China has made great strides in the past decades, it remains in many ways closed. We are not happy about governmental restrictions on access to information, and we hope that over time, everyone in the world will come to enjoy full access to information. Information and communication technology...has brought Chinese citizens a greater ability to read, discuss, publish and communicate about a wider range of topics, events, and issues than ever before," McLaughlin wrote. "We believe that our continued engagement with China is the best (and perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits of universal information access to all our users there."

In a separate joint statement, Yahoo and Microsoft had a similar message:

"While we believe that companies have a responsibility to identify appropriate practices in each market in which they do business, we think there is a vital role for government-to-government discussion of the larger issues involved. We urge the United States government to take a leadership role in this regard and have initiated a dialogue with relevant U.S. officials to encourage such government-to-government engagement," the statement said.

They also said they were actively exploring potential approaches to guide industry practices and defended their actions.

"We do not consider the Internet situation in China to be one of 'business-as usual.' Beyond commercial considerations, we believe that our services have promoted personal expression and enabled far wider access to independent sources of information for hundreds of millions of individuals in China and elsewhere in the world," the statement said.

Although the companies have been criticized for abiding by Chinese censorship restrictions over the past few years, the debate heated up last week when Google launched its censored Chinese search engine, the last of the major search companies to do so.