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Clinton bluntly condemns China on Internet censorship

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered blunt condemnation of strict Internet censorship in China and pledged to help Chinese citizens jump the 'Great Fire Wall.'

By Staff Writer / January 21, 2010

A Google logo is seen partially blocked by a Chinese national flag Wednesday at Google's China headquarters in Beijing.

Alexander F. Yuan/AP

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Beijing

Hillary Clinton’s fierce condemnation of Internet censorship in a speech Thursday, and her strong support for Google in its clash with Beijing, puts Washington on a collision course with China on a key issue of principle.

“The language of her speech amounts to a political showdown,” says Shi Yinhong, an influential expert on US-China relations at Beijing’s Renmin University. “This is what the Chinese government had hoped for least.”

The secretary of State’s blunt condemnation of China’s strict Internet censorship – a central plank in the government’s information policy - is likely to put new strains on Washington’s relationship with Beijing, in which the Obama administration has placed high hopes.

“This will give a lot of support to hard-liners in the government who see the US as adopting a more assertive posture in trying to direct China’s future,” says Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst. “Mrs. Clinton was trying to give succor to liberal-minded elements in society here, but it is not going to play well” with the authorities.

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Clinton: Chinese risk 'walling themselves off'

Clinton threw down a direct challenge to Beijing’s censors, pledging to help citizens here jump the “Great Fire Wall” that blocks access to tens of thousands of websites. She announced that Washington would go on “supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their right of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship,” and “make sure that those tools get to the people who need them.”

She also warned China’s rulers that their censorship risked “walling themselves off from the progress of the next century.”

Though such talk “will not go down well” with the government, says Kaiser Kuo, a writer on Internet affairs and US-China relations, Clinton’s call on US companies to resist censorship “will resonate positively among Chinese netizens.”

In a 2008 survey by WorldPublicOpinion.org, an international polling firm, 66 percent of Chinese respondents said they “should have the right to read whatever is on the Internet.”

Clinton’s speech, however, “won’t change people’s minds,” Mr. Kuo predicted. As Chinese netizens watched her speech – webcast live and linked to several Chinese blogs – many of them crowded onto chat rooms to offer divided opinions. “There will always be those who chafe against censorship and those who defend the regime,” says Kuo.

Meanwhile, the secretary of State’s bid to rally US business behind her Internet freedom crusade will pose awkward problems for Beijing.

“Chinese officials have managed for many years to distinguish between American companies and American policies,” says Moses. “The new line from the United States suggests that this is going to be tougher now.”

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