Narayan Lakshman and Ananth Krishnan

Washington DC/Beijing: At a Congressional hearing in Washington, Google Inc. Vice President Nicole Wong said, “We no longer feel comfortable censoring our search results in China”, adding that Google would “resist government censorship and other acts to chill speech even when that decision is hard”.

The company's executives on Wednesday testified before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on “The Google Predicament: Transforming US Cyberspace Policy to Advance Democracy, Security and Trade.”

In January, Google announced it would stop censoring results on its Chinese-language search engine, following concerns over a spate of “highly sophisticated” cyber-attacks targeting the E-mail accounts of several Chinese human rights activists.

Those concerns were reiterated at the Congressional hearing, with Larry M. Wortzel, Commissioner at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, saying “China is the origin of extensive and malicious cyber activities that target the United States”. The vast majority of this activity was directed by the Chinese government, according to Mr. Wortzel.

Ms. Wong also underscored Google's unwillingness to tolerate censorship of its search results saying “ [if] the option is that we will shutter our .cn property and leave the country, we are prepared to do that.”

However the Committee also challenged some of Google's statements at the hearing. “Google is yet to follow through and stop self-censoring. Our praise shouldn't be for an intent, our praise should be for accomplishing [what was intended]”, said Committee member Dana Rohrabacher.

According to reports, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said, “We're in active talks with the Chinese government, and we have no specific timetable, but something will happen soon.”

Chinese officials have so far refused to comment on the talks, but have rejected claims by investigators that the attacks were traced to two Chinese universities. Foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said the claims were “totally groundless”, and that accusations of the Chinese government's involvement were “irresponsible and driven by ulterior motives.”

Speaking after the hearing Mr. Rohrabacher further said, “Unfortunately corporate America cannot be trusted to make moral decisions, based on freedom and democracy, when it comes to their corporate profits.” Committee Chairman Howard Berman said the U.S. government should “think more carefully” before jumping into bilateral sanctions over the Google issue.

However Mr. Rohrabacher added that the U.S. should do everything it could to ensure that corporations do not acquiesce to the mandates of a dictatorship in Beijing.

With more than 384 million Internet users, China has the world's biggest and fastest-growing market for Internet search. Google initially agreed to follow the government's censorship policies when it launched its Chinese search-engine in 2006. But even after four years, the company has struggled to expand its presence in the country, with local search-engine Baidu enjoying a 70 per cent market share.

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