January 15, 2010

China: Companies Must Abide By “˜Propaganda Discipline’

After Google threatened to pull out of China, the country released an official response on Thursday saying that foreign Internet companies are welcome as long as they follow the law, reported the Associated Press.

At a regular ministry briefing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said e-mail hacking is not permitted in Beijing. E-mail hacking was just one of many issues noted by Google, who wants China to compromise on Web censorship. 

"China's Internet is open," Jiang said. "China welcomes international Internet enterprises to conduct business in China according to law."

The search engine giant Google Inc. said Tuesday that it would no longer censor search results in China, and may even close its Google.cn website in China. The company cited cases where attempts were made to break into human rights activists' Gmail accounts.

A warning came from the main Communist Party newspaper saying that companies should obey government controls. For the second day in a row, Web users left flowers at Google's Beijing offices to show their support.

Referring to  a Cabinet official's comments in November, Peoples Daily said companies need to assist the government in maintaining a safe Internet environment and fight online pornography and cyber attacks.

Official Wang Chen said that companies must abide by "propaganda discipline."

"Companies have to concretely increase the ability of Internet media to guide public opinion in order to uphold Internet safety."

On Thursday, law professor and human rights lawyer Teng Biao also wrote on his blog that his Gmail had been broken into and email had been forwarded to another e-mail account. He said that he did not know if he was one of two Chinese activists mentioned by Google as hacking targets.

"Google leaving China makes people sad, but accepting censorship to stay in China and abandoning its 'Don't Be Evil' principles is more than just sad," Teng wrote.

Another Beijing human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, claims that his Gmail account was hacked in November and important materials were taken, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group announced. Jiang has represented Tibetan activists and advised people with AIDS who are seeking government help.

Some visitors were seen pouring small glasses of liquor outside Google offices, a Chinese funeral ritual. 

One man left a copy of Peoples Daily, to represent the type of controlled state media that the Chinese people would be left with if Google leaves and censorship continues.

"Google is the true hero in this silent city," said a note left outside the building in the capital's Haidian technology district. Referencing the government's Web filter, dubbed the "Great Firewall," another note said, "The tallest walls cannot divide people's sentiments. Google: Bye, let's meet on the other side of the wall."

Google's main U.S. site has a Chinese-language section, but the filters make the site run slowly and make it difficult to get to from China.

Though Beijing encourages Internet use for business and educational purposes, it implements extensive filters to block access to material that the government considers to be subversive or pornographic. Web sites run by dissidents and human rights groups fall under the category of "subversive", and are blocked. 

Global Times, published by Peoples Daily and infamous for its fiery nationalistic tone, made a surprising statement on Thursday, saying that Google's departure would be a "lose-lose situation" for China.

"Google is taking extreme measures but it is reminding us that we should pay attention to the issue of the free flow of information," the newspaper said. It added that China's national influence and competitiveness rely on the accessibility of information and added, "We have to advance with the times."

On Wednesday, the White House said that it had been briefed by Google on its plans in China but declined to divulge details. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama made it clear as to how he felt about Internet freedom during his trip to China in November, when he told students that an open exchange of information makes all countries stronger.

When asked whether the issue with Google could cause a problem between the two nations, Giggs said, "We stood in China when we gave the answer about a free Internet. So, the president and this administration have beliefs about the freedom of the Internet."

It does not seem likely that other countries will follow Google's example in trying to shift the way business is done in China.

"As long as you aren't involved in politics, the media or pornography, the government will leave you alone," said Siva Yam, president of the United States of America-China Chamber of Commerce, which primarily represents U.S. companies in China.