A day after United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on China to lift its control over the Internet, the government here warned that criticism of its censorship policies would be “harmful” to the ties between the two countries.

Ms. Clinton accused the Chinese government of “stepping up” censorship, in a much-anticipated speech on Internet freedom in Washington. She also urged Chinese authorities to investigate the cyber attacks that Internet giant Google had reported earlier this month, which targeted at least 30 companies and a number of Chinese human rights activists.

“In the last year, we’ve seen a spike in threats to the free flow of information,” Ms. Clinton said. “China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan have stepped up their censorship of the Internet.”

‘Groundless’

The Chinese government on Friday described her statement as “groundless.” “We urge the United States to respect the facts and cease using so-called Internet freedom to make groundless accusations against China,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said, although not directly referring to Ms. Clinton’s speech. “The U.S. has criticised China’s policies to administer the Internet and insinuated that China restricts Internet freedom. This runs contrary to the facts and is harmful to China-U.S. relations.”

China’s censorship policies have come under the spotlight in recent weeks, following Google’s announcement that it would stop censoring its search-engine in China. The government, and most of the State-run media here, have so far had a largely measured response to Google’s decision. In its only official statement on the matter, it said China “welcomed” foreign companies as long as they operate “according to law.”

The Chinese government restricts access to a number of websites that discuss subjects viewed by the ruling Communist Party as politically-sensitive, such as the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 or Tibet. Access to a number of websites, including Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, is blocked .

So far, Beijing has sought to portray Google’s decision as a purely commercial matter, and one with no diplomatic ramifications. Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei said on Thursday it would be an “over-interpretation” to link Google’s case to China’s relationship with the U.S.

However, Ms. Clinton’s comments drew a sharper response on Friday. The Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper described it as “a disguised attempt” by the U.S. “to impose its values on other cultures in the name of democracy.” The paper accused the U.S. of “information imperialism.”