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Chinese bloggers ask Kerry for help as restrictions on Internet use mount

| Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

BEIJING — Leading Chinese bloggers asked Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday to put more pressure on their government to ease mounting restrictions on freedom of expression and Internet use and to help tear down the Great Firewall of China, as the system of censorship here is known.

Reporter and blogger Zhang Jialong complained that U.S. companies were complicit in maintaining Internet restrictions in China and asked Kerry to do more for Chinese dissidents who have been jailed for peacefully expressing their views.

Kerry met with four leading bloggers during a short trip to China, a visit otherwise dominated by official discussions on the thorny issues of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and climate change.

Although his morning meeting with the bloggers was supposed to show U.S. support for freedom of expression in China, the secretary seemed to be put on the defensive by their questions and appeals for help, insisting that he had urged Chinese leaders to support expanded press and Internet freedoms.

“Obviously, we think that the Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the Internet,” he said.

But Kerry sidestepped a question about his view of the path China is on, after investigative reporter Wang Keqin said intellectuals were worried about growing restrictions since Xi Jinping took over as president last March.

Kerry said he had consistently raised the issue of human rights during his visits to China, including in meetings with Xi.

“We constantly press these issues at all of our meetings, whether it is in the United States or here, at every level, and we will continue to do so,” he said.

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