Top U.S. trade official 'studying' possible WTO complaint on China's Web rules

A handful of companies have implored the Obama administration recently to pressure China on its online censorship rules. Seemingly leading that pack is Google, which has promised to cease filtering its Chinese users' search results in response to a January cyberattack that originated somewhere in the nation.

One Google official even told a Senate hearing last week that China's Web censorship rules have made it manifestly difficult for foreign companies to do business there. Google executives have since made their case for a WTO complaint against China rather publicly, stressing its importance for uninhibited foreign trade.

But U.S. officials remain unsure whether a WTO complaint is the most appropriate route to compel a change in China's historically tough Web rules. For one thing, Sino-American relations have grown especially tenuous over the past few months, and a protracted trade fight in an international setting is unlikely to bring the two nations closer together.

That sentiment seemed evident in Kirk's comments on Tuesday, though his office did tell The Hill on Wednesday it was still consulting with industry stakeholders on the matter.

"We'll look at this seriously, but our first preference is to see if we cant get this resolved through direct negotiations, rather than to have to run to the WTO in every case," Kirk said.