Obama and Congress sound different tones on Google-China censorship fight

The White House so far has left the administration response to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is scheduled to give an address on Internet freedom next week. She released a statement Tuesday that demanded “an explanation” for the cyber attacks, which she said “raise very serious concerns and questions.”

During a Wednesday hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, David Shear, the deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that the administration will raise the issue of cyber attacks with the Chinese.

Obama has sought to develop a positive relationship with China and has taken steps to avoid irritating its government. He put off a meeting with the Dalai Lama before his visit to China, though he is expected to meet with the exiled leader of Tibet soon.

He’s also frequently sought to bring a measured tone to comments about relations with China, which has a fast-growing economy that is increasingly intertwined with the U.S.

China holds more than $2 trillion in currency reserves, most of it in U.S. dollars, and has criticized U.S. budget deficits under Obama that have reduced the value of those assets. A decision by China to not buy U.S. Treasury bonds would lower the value of the U.S. dollar, which could hurt both economies.

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Google’s threat to pull out of China would remove one of the nation’s most important companies from one of the world’s most important markets.

Google would lose significant market share by pulling out of China, one of the biggest Internet-using nations in the world. It would also cut access of other Google properties, like YouTube, to China. When Google set up shop in China in 2006, it reserved the right to reassess its business there if new restrictions on free speech surfaced.

Most of the reaction Wednesday, however, centered on what the move would mean for cyber security and human rights in China.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the incident reinforces the need for a stronger national cyber security infrastructure and said the U.S. should "confront this ever-growing problem aggressively and with all available means."

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, said Google's move "bespeaks the need for China to move more quickly for human rights," but cautioned that Google had not yet made a final decision about leaving the country.

Human-rights lobbying groups are urging other companies to follow Google's lead.

"A transnational attack on privacy is chilling, and Google's response sets a great example," said Arvind Ganesan, director of Human Rights Watch's corporations and human rights program. "At the same time, this incident underscores the need for governments and companies to develop policies that safeguard rights."

Google, Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft have all come under fire from lawmakers in the past for acquiescing to China's censorship rules. In 2004, Yahoo turned over information about the e-mail account of a pro-democracy journalist when the information was demanded by Chinese authorities. The journalist was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005.

Yahoo sold its China business the same year to Chinese company Alibaba and no longer has “operational control or day-to-day management over the Yahoo China business,” the company said in statement. But Yahoo said it stands "aligned" with Google that attacks on user privacy is “something that we as Internet pioneers must all oppose.”


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