Google asks White House for help in fight over censorship with China

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has asked the White House for help in Google's fight with China.

Brin on Wednesday called on the White House to take action in the dispute between the search engine company and China over Beijing's strict Web censorship rules.

Google began redirecting its Chinese visitors to its unfiltered Hong Kong search portal on Monday, in response to a Jan. 12 cyberattack on the company that its executives say originated in China. But officials in Beijing promptly began censoring its citizens' access to the new site, instilling fear among Google's local partners that more repercussions could soon follow.

Ultimately, Brin described that standoff on Wednesday as a "human rights issue." He implored the Obama administration in an interview with The Guardian to make the dispute a "high priority," much as "trade issues ... are high priority right now."

However, the Obama administration signaled this week it plans to steer mostly clear of Google and China's recent row.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Tuesday that Google's move is strictly a "business decision." And while Crowley later implored China to "seriously consider the implications" of Google's policy shift, he nonetheless suggested the State Department did not plan to press China on the matter.

His tone seemed to contrast with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's guarantee last year that global Internet freedoms would be a top department priority in 2010.

A number of Google executives have labored recently to portray Beijing's censorship rules as barriers to foreign trade — obstacles worthy of an official complaint before the World Trade Organization. But the White House has instead implored tech leaders to negotiate with their Chinese counterparts, fearing the impact an international trade battle would have on Sino-American relations.

But despite the brewing row, which now seems to threaten all of Google's China business ventures, Brin told The Guardian his company did not regret the way it had done business with Beijing.

"I think it's really hard to say. I do think we helped some," he told the newspaper. "Obviously it's impossible to replace history, and we made a pretty reasonable set of decisions at the time."

"I hope the political system in China evolves so that we can have more direct involvement again … I hope this leads to a path where the doors start to open more," Brin added.