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China defends Internet policies after Google charges

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Government spokesman insists Chinese Internet is open, but managed under law.

China de fended its Internet policies in the wake of complaints of hacking and censorship by Google Inc., but stopped short of saying how it will deal with the U.S. Internet giant’s threat to stop scrubbing its local search results and potentially leave the Chinese market.

“China, like other countries, manages its Internet according to the law,” Jiang Yu, spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thursday in response to questions about Google. Her remarks, at a routine press conference, were Beijing’s first direct comments on the company’s statement since it was issued Tuesday. Ms. Jiang said China’s Internet is open, and that it has laws against online crimes such as hacking.

Google said it had discovered a highly sophisticated attack on its computer system originating from China, and that numerous other foreign entities were hit in related attacks. That, and China’s intensifying clampdown on free speech, prompted Google to decide it couldn’t continue censoring google.cn-as it has done since the Chinese-language site was launched four years ago-and might need to shut its Chinese operation as a result.

China’s government was clearly caught off guard by Google’s statement–like most of the world. Officials in Beijing had refused to discuss the issue, and it remains unclear what action they might take against Google. Ultimately, if it chose to, the government could not only force the closure of google.cn but also block access in China to Google’s uncensored global site, google.com, and to its other online services.

Ms. Jiang said that China’s “measures are in line with international practice,” and emphasized that “we welcome international Internet companies to do business in China in accordance with the law.” Asked about the allegations of cyber attacks, she stressed the illegality of such attacks under Chinese law. But she declined to say if the Chinese government itself is bound by those laws on cyber crimes, referring the question to “relevant authorities.” Some U.S. experts investigating the cyber attacks suspect their perpetrators are linked to Chinese intelligence.

People familiar with the attacks say the hackers tried to mask their identity by routing their efforts through six Internet addresses located in Taiwan, a common tactic used by Chinese hackers.

Five of the six addresses were owned by Era Digital Media Co., a company that provides television programs and movies through the Internet. Era Digital, which has some 800,000 daily viewers, said it was not aware of the attack and declined to comment further. The sixth address is owned by Qi Wei Technology Co., a financial software provider. Qi Wei said it had stopped using the relevant address in June.

Lee Hsiang-chen, director of Taiwan National Police Agency’s High-tech Criminal Center, said the two companies were likely victims themselves.”The two companies were probably attacked,” he said, adding that Chinese hackers prefer to infiltrate Taiwan websites because they use the same language.

Analysts say hackers around the world, especially from China, frequently attack Taiwan companies’ computers by installing software through Trojan horses and backdoors. The attacked computers are referred to as “zombie computers” or victims of a “botnet,” which let hackers control them remotely. Taiwan’s robust Internet network has also made it appealing to international hackers.”Taiwan’s internet infrastructure is well established, and computers are highly popular, which means [hackers] can easily find problematic computers to attack,” said Steven Tsai, senior engineer of Taiwan’s National Center for High Performance Computing.

According to Trend Micro Inc., a Taipei-based security software company, about 20 million attacks took place on Taiwanese computers in August 2009 alone, compared with some five million attacked in China during the same period.

Chinese public reaction to Google’s threat to withdraw has been mixed. Many Internet users have expressed support for the company, which despite the censorship of its Chinese site is widely seen as less censored than Chinese sites. Google’s share of the Chinese search market has more than doubled in the last three years, to more than 35%, but it remains well behind Chinese rival Baidu.com.

State-run media on Thursday carried largely critical treatment of Google’s move, although some reports also emphasized that the company’s withdrawal would be a major loss for China.

The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, carried a wide-ranging defense of China’s Internet policies from Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office, a media regulator under the country’s cabinet. Mr. Wang didn’t refer directly to Google but said “self-regulation” by the online media industry is important to ensuring Internet security.”Online media must step up their ability to guide public opinion,” he said,”to protect the minds and bodies of young people.”

The China Daily, an English language newspaper largely targeting foreigners, called Google’s threat to pull out of China a “pressure tactic” in a front-page headline. The article cited a local professor saying that Google “is just playing cat and mouse, and trying to use netizens’ anger or disappointment as leverage.”

The Global Times, another English-language paper that often carries more nationalistic fare, said in an editorial on its Web site that Google’s withdrawal would “imply a setback to China and serious loss to China’s Net culture.” An opinion piece in the Beijing News, a widely read daily in the capital, acknowledged that China’s Internet market has benefitted from Google’s presence in China.

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