In China’s first official response to Google’s threat to leave the country, the government Thursday said foreign Internet companies are welcome but must obey the law and gave no hint of a possible compromise over Web censorship.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, without mentioning Google by name, said Beijing prohibits e-mail hacking, another issue cited by the company. She was responding to questions about Google at a regular ministry briefing.
“China’s Internet is open,” Jiang said. “China welcomes international Internet enterprises to conduct business in China according to law.”
Google Inc. said Tuesday it would stop censoring search results in China and might shut down its China-based Google.cn site, citing attempts to break into accounts on its Gmail service used by human rights activists.
Jiang gave no indication whether the government had talked with Google. The state Xinhua News Agency said earlier officials were seeking more information about its announcement.
The main Communist Party newspaper warned companies to obey government controls as Web users visited Google’s Beijing offices for a second day to leave flowers and notes expressing support for the company.
Peoples Daily, citing a Cabinet official’s comments in November, said companies must help the government keep the Internet safe and fight online pornography and cyber attacks.
Web companies must abide by “propaganda discipline,” the official, Wang Chen, was quoted as saying. “Companies have to concretely increase the ability of Internet media to guide public opinion in order to uphold Internet safety.”
Employees entered and left the building but declined to talk to reporters.
Google’s main U.S. site has a Chinese-language section but Beijing’s filters make that slow and difficult to access from China.
Beijing promotes Internet use for business and education but operates extensive filters to block access to material deemed subversive or pornographic, including Web sites run by dissidents and human rights groups. Its market of 338 million Internet users is the world’s most populous.
A Google departure could give a boost to local rival Baidu Inc., allowing it to pick up Google users and advertisers, analysts said.
Baidu, launched in 2000, is a standout in the global search industry - a local competitor that beats giant Google Inc. Baidu has 60 percent of China’s search market and has held onto that despite Google’s launch of a local site and relentless efforts to tailor its services to Chinese tastes.
“We view this development as a major positive opportunity for Baidu,” Citigroup analysts Catherine Leung and Mark S. Mahaney said in a report.
The White House said Wednesday it was briefed by Google on its plans in China but refused to give details. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama made his stance on Internet freedom clear during his trip to China in November, when he told students an open exchange of information makes all countries stronger.
Gibbs said the White House is awaiting China’s response to Google’s announcement. Asked whether the incident could cause a U.S.-China chill, Giggs said: “We stood in China when we gave the answer about a free Internet. So, the president and this administration have beliefs about the freedom of the Internet.”
It appeared unlikely other companies might follow Google’s lead and try to change how business is done in China.
“As long as you aren’t involved in politics, the media or pornography, the government will leave you alone,” said Siva Yam, president of the United States of America-China Chamber of Commerce, which primarily represents U.S. companies in China.