International

Chinese government ordered Google hacking, U.S. officials believed

In this file photo, a woman cleans the Google logo outside the Google China headquarters in Beijing.

In this file photo, a woman cleans the Google logo outside the Google China headquarters in Beijing.  

United States officials believed that the Chinese Communist Party's highest levels were involved in planning last year's hacking attacks on Google and forcing the company out of China, leaked U.S. Embassy cables have indicated.

A cable from May 2009, part of the latest batch of documents released by WikiLeaks on Saturday, quoted U.S. officials as saying they had information, from one unidentified Chinese contact, that a member of the Communist Party Polit Bureau's Standing Committee had a role in ordering the hacking attacks on Google, and had told Chinese telecom companies to stop dealing with the U.S.-based web giant.

The contact claimed a member of the Polit Bureau, identified by the New York Times as propaganda chief Li Changchun, had been angered after searching himself on Google and finding critical comments.

While the cable acknowledged that the claims made by the source were questionable and made without any evidence, the dispatches filed by diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Beijing indicated that officials privately believed the Chinese government had played a key role in driving Google's exit from China at various stages, even as they publicly withheld direct criticism of the authorities.

“While we can neither confirm nor deny the provocative language and views attributed to [the source], the claims of government-forced retribution by the major SOE [State-owned Enterprise] telecoms companies are cause for serious concern,” the cable said.

The U.S. government has not publicly blamed the Chinese government for the attacks, and has only called on the government to do more to crack down on China-based hackers. The Chinese government has denied it had any role in the hacking attacks.

Google opened a search-engine in China, Google.cn, in 2006, after agreeing to censor search-results to comply with the Chinese government's restrictions. The cable said Polit Bureau member Mr. Li was angered that Google.cn had provided a link to the uncensored Google.com search engine, which contained critical comments. The cables did not say how the source had access to Mr. Li, or even how the source knew the Chinese leader had indeed searched himself on Google.

Another cable from July 2009 said that the company's refusal to remove the link to the unfiltered Google.com search engine was at the heart of its dispute with the Chinese authorities. The web giant's relations with the Chinese government soured after last July, with the company being accused by the authorities last year of providing links to pornographic material in search-results. As the relationship strained, the company eventually closed down its Chinese search-engine following a series of hacking attacks that targeted the email accounts of many Chinese activists.

The cables also revealed that while Google decided to keep much of its falling out with the Chinese authorities private, it regularly consulted with senior U.S. officials over the issue.

“Google is the only international search engine still doing business in China. It is an important symbol,” embassy officials noted in the July cable. “If Google were forced to withdraw from the market, the move could attract heavy international attention.”

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2020 9:42:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/Chinese-government-ordered-Google-hacking-U.S.-officials-believed/article15581972.ece

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