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China gets warning on censorship

| Friday, Jan. 22, 2010

WASHINGTON -- In a new warning to China, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Thursday for free access to the Internet and said countries that attack information networks should face "consequences and international condemnation."

Citing growing censorship in China and other countries, Clinton said that "a new information curtain is descending over much of the world." She said the Obama administration would rally other world powers to try to reverse the trend, and urged private companies to resist censorship by foreign governments.

Clinton stopped short of detailing what approach the administration would use to pressure other governments or to expand Internet freedoms. She said governments and business first needed a "very vigorous discussion" of how to handle a complicated issue.

Her comments in Washington, which aides billed as major policy speech on Internet freedom, occurred as world attention has focused on Google's threat to pull out of China after cyberattacks on its networks, and intrusions into the e-mail accounts of political activists there. The controversy has built pressure on the Obama administration to explain how far it intends to go to defend U.S. interests and human rights.

U.S. officials have said they will soon demand a formal explanation of what happened to Google.

Chinese officials signaled again yesterday that they hoped to keep the dispute a commercial issue, rather than one with broader diplomatic implications.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei, speaking in Beijing, said that "the Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries. Otherwise, it's over-interpretation," he said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Clinton's speech occurs at a delicate moment in U.S.-Chinese relations. Frictions have grown over Obama's plans to sell arms to Taiwan and to meet with the Dalai Lama, and it is possible that the tensions could affect U.S. efforts to persuade China to join in a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Although Clinton did not spell out what sanctions the United States might use, Internet rights advocates and some other analysts described the speech as a commitment to a greater American role.

"It's a signpost that there's going to be a shift in policy," said Brett Solomon of Accessnow.org, an advocate for Internet freedom. "We didn't get a detailed plan of action. But it's a commitment to a policy evolution."

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