BEIJING — Google's threat to pull out of China over concerns about censorship and security should not affect ties with the United States, a top Chinese official said Thursday, seeking to contain the government's dispute with the Internet giant.
"The Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries. Otherwise, it's an overinterpretation," Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The Xinhua report did not mention censorship, instead referring to Google's "disagreements with government policies."
The comment from He came just hours before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a speech in Washington on Internet freedom calling for U.S. companies to resist pressure to accept censorship.
On Jan. 12, Google said it will remain in China only if the government relents on rules requiring the censorship of content that the ruling Communist Party considers subversive. The ultimatum came after Google said it had uncovered a computer attack that tried to plunder its software coding and the e-mail accounts of human-rights activists protesting Chinese policies.
The United States has said it will lodge a formal complaint to Beijing on the alleged hacking attack.
In her speech Thursday, Clinton urged China to investigate cyber intrusions and challenged Beijing to openly publish its findings. She also spoke broadly about the connection between information freedom and international business.
"Countries that censor news and information must recognize that, from an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring political speech and commercial speech," she said. "If businesses in your nation are denied access to either type of information, it will inevitably reduce growth."
She cited China as among a number of countries where there has been "a spike in threats to the free flow of information" over the past year. She also named Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Egypt and Vietnam.
Clinton challenged corporations worldwide to stand up against Internet censorship.
"Censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere," she said. "And in America, American companies need to make a principled stand. This needs to be part of our national brand."
Wen Yunchao, a well-known blogger based in Guangzhou in south China, said Clinton's speech would boost the morale of those who seek greater Internet freedom in China, but he said more details on U.S. efforts to advance the cause around the world are needed.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University, said He's remarks reflect the desire of the top Chinese leadership to keep the Google dispute confined to the business arena.
"If this becomes a bigger issue, then it will affect China's image," he said. "Google in China should follow government regulations, but those regulations can be discussed. They shouldn't have a public showdown."
A company spokeswoman in Beijing said Google had no comment on He's remark.
So far, reports in China's state-run media have glossed over Google's complaints of coding theft and e-mail hacking, instead calling the matter a business dispute.
State media have also accused Google of playing politics. They say the company is being driven out by a lack of business success and is trying to stir up support from China's predominantly young Internet users.
Google.cn, set up in 2005, has a 35 percent market share, compared with Baidu's 60 percent.
The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Google must obey China's laws and traditions, suggesting it was giving no ground in talks with the company.