BEIJING — Beijing issued a stinging response Friday to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's criticism that it is jamming the free flow of words and ideas on the Internet, accusing the United States of damaging relations between the two countries by imposing its "information imperialism" on China.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu defended China's policies regarding the Web, saying the nation's Internet regulations were in line with Chinese law and did not hamper the cyber activities of the world's largest online population. His remarks follow those made by Clinton, who in a speech Thursday criticized countries engaging in cyberspace censorship and urged China to investigate computer attacks against Google.
"Regarding comments that contradict facts and harm China-U.S. relations, we are firmly opposed," Ma said in a statement posted Friday on the ministry's Web site. "We urge the U.S. side to respect facts and stop using the so-called 'freedom of the Internet' to make unjustified accusations against China."
In her speech in Washington, Clinton 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, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
A Chinese state-run newspaper labeled the appeal from Washington as "information imperialism," and Ma insisted that China had "the most active development of the Internet" of any country.
Washington, meanwhile, carried its message on Internet freedom directly to Chinese bloggers. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou hosted Internet-streamed discussions with members of the blogging community Friday afternoon — the latest example of Washington's outreach to Chinese bloggers as a way of spreading its message.
Zhou Shuguang, who blogs under the name "Zuola," attended the session in Guangzhou and said Clinton's speech resonated deeply with Chinese bloggers frustrated by the content controls.
"We welcome the U.S. bringing this topic to the table for discussion in a diplomatic way," Zhou said.
Internet control is considered a critical matter of state security in China, and Beijing is not expected to offer any concessions. Beijing promotes Internet use for commerce, but heavily censors content it deems pornographic, antisocial or politically subversive, and blocks many foreign news and social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook and the popular video site YouTube.
Underscoring such sensitivities, Chinese media published only scant reports on Clinton's speech and Web sites carrying the Foreign Ministry response had disabled their comments pages.
Clinton's speech came on the heels of a Jan. 12 threat from Google to pull out of China unless the government relented on censorship. 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.
Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, said Thursday that the company hoped to find a way to maintain a presence in China but intended to stop censoring search results within "a reasonably short time."