The standoff between Google and the Chinese government took another turn this weekend, with state officials saying that the search giant had not come forward with a formal complaint about the hacking attacks that prompted it to threaten to shutter its operations in the country.
The state-run news agency Xinhua and newspaper China Daily both reported that Miao Wei, the vice minister of the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), claimed that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) hadn’t reported the attacks to state authorities or sought negotiations regarding China’s Internet censorship rules. In January, Google said it would pull out of China if the government continued to block certain Web sites, claiming that a wave of attacks emanating from that country had targeted its corporate infrastructure and attempted to access the Gmail accounts of human rights advocates.
“We have yet to have any direct contacts or negotiations with them on this topic,” Miao told China Daily.
“If Google decides to continue its business in China and abides by China’s laws, it’s welcome to stay,” he said, adding that if the company decides to pull out of the country, “it must go through certain procedures according to the law.”
But a Reuters report offered a different account. In a dispatch from Beijing, where the National People’s Congress convened last week for its annual legislative session, the news service reported MIIT Minister Li Yizhong saying that the Chinese government was negotiating with Google to resolve the dispute.
Then in a China Daily story, Li was described as declining to comment on the status of talks, saying, “On this matter, Google knows it best itself.”
And on this matter, Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this report, keeping with the search firm’s public silence on the issue since coming forward with the revelations about the attacks in January.
But the standoff has been punctuated by escalating rhetoric among both U.S. and Chinese government officials. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech in January offering a stout defense of Internet freedom and calling on the Chinese government to launch an open and transparent investigation into the attacks.
Numerous Chinese officials have since been quoted in state media outlets defending the country’s Internet policies and denying any involvement in the incident Google described, while also blasting the United States for adhering to a double standard regarding Internet regulation.
In the meantime, the fracas has caught the attention of some lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Last week, Sen. Dick Durbin chaired a hearing on Internet freedom and human rights, and pledged to introduce legislation that would require U.S. tech firms to “take reasonable steps to protect human rights or face civil or criminal liability.”
Durbin blasted the tech industry as a whole for its general unwillingness to sign on to the Global Network Initiative, a voluntary code of conduct for preserving free speech on the Internet. Only Google had accepted his invitation to testify at last week’s hearing.
But Nicole Wong, Google’s deputy general counsel, offered lawmakers little insight into the company’s plans regarding China.
“We don’t have a specific timetable. Having said that, we are firm in our decision that we will not censor our search results in China, and we are working to that end,” Wong said at the hearing.
Wong is scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday at a hearing on U.S. cyberspace policy democracy.