Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday urged China to conduct a thorough probe into cyberattacks on Google and other US companies, pressing technology firms to resist Internet censorship.
Without specifically mentioning China, Hillary said in a speech on Internet freedom at the Newseum in Washington that countries and individuals who engage in cyberattacks should be punished.
China, meanwhile, sought to play down the row with the United States over Google, insisting that the Internet giant`s threat to quit the country over censorship and cyberattacks should not be linked to Sino-US ties.
Google`s chief executive Eric Schmidt said the California company would like to remain in the Asian giant but could no longer agree to censor results on its Web search engine there.
"We`re in conversation with the Chinese government," he said after releasing Google`s quarterly results, which saw net profit soar five-fold to USD 1.97 billion. "We made a strong statement that we wish to remain in China.”
"We continue to follow their laws, we continue to offer censored results," Schmidt, warning that "in a reasonably short time from now, we will be making some changes there."
In another development, Microsoft released a patch for Internet Explorer 6 aimed at fixing a vulnerability in the Web browser that China-based cyber spies used to probe the computer systems of Google and other companies.
Hillary cited China, North Korea, Tunisia and Uzbekistan as countries restricting the "free flow of information" or censoring the Internet and noted that access to social networking sites in Vietnam has "suddenly disappeared”.
Some 30 bloggers and activists have been detained in Egypt, she added, calling China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam nations that have "co-opted the Internet as a tool to target and silence people of faith."
"On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress," she said. "But the United States does. We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas."
She lamented the "electronic barriers" some countries have erected to limit people`s access to the Internet and remove certain terms from search engine results.
"They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech," the chief US diplomat said, urging US technology firms to take up their "shared responsibility" to safeguard free speech and play a role in developing new tools to circumvent "politically motivated" censorship.
"American companies need to make a principled stand. This needs to be part of our national brand," she said.
"When their business dealings threaten to undermine this freedom, they need to consider what`s right, not simply the prospect of quick profits."
The State Department has plans to hold a high-level meeting next month with companies that provide network services for talks on Internet freedom.
Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Cisco are among the US technology giants that have been accused by US lawmakers and others of helping to build what has been dubbed the "Great Firewall of China”.
Hillary called on China to conduct a "thorough review of the cyber intrusions" revealed by Google and for "its results to be transparent”.
"The Internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China, and it is fabulous. There are so many people in China now online," she said.
"But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century."
Cyberattackers should face punishment, Hillary said.
"Those who disrupt the free flow of information in our society or any other pose a threat to our economy, our government and our civil society," she added.
"Countries or individuals that engage in cyberattacks should face consequences and international condemnation."
Her remarks came after Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said "the Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries.”
"Otherwise, it`s an over-interpretation," he added.
"If Google has any problems in its business in China, these must be resolved according to Chinese law, and the Chinese government is willing to help resolve these problems."