China said Thursday that foreign Internet companies are welcome to operate in the country in accordance with local laws, after Google defied authorities by saying it will end censorship on its Chinese search engine.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu made the statement at a news briefing when asked about Google's threat to leave the Chinese market. China requires Google and other search companies to filter pornographic and politically sensitive content from their search results.
Google this week said it plans to stop censoring Google.cn, its search engine aimed at Chinese users, and that the move might lead it to shut its China offices altogether. Analysts doubt China will allow Google to run an uncensored Chinese search engine.
Google also said it had been hit by sophisticated cyberattacks launched from China and largely aimed at accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
Jiang defended China's cyber laws but did not directly respond to the hacking allegation. "Chinese law prohibits any form of hacking attack," Jiang said. When asked if Chinese law also bars the government itself from hacking activity, she deferred the question to the "competent department."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a day earlier called for an explanation from China, adding U.S. government pressure to Google's allegations.
China has explained its position to the U.S., Jiang said without elaborating when asked about Clinton's statements.
China so far has given little public response to Google. The country's official news agency Xinhua cited an unnamed official as saying Chinese Internet authorities are seeking more information on Google's statement that it could leave China.
"It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows," the official in the State Council Information Office was quoted as saying.
Jiang also deferred questions to the competent departments when asked if the government was in talks with Google, how China punishes cybercriminals and if China was involved in alleged cyberattacks on U.S. lawyers serving a company that has sued China over software piracy.
When asked to name the competent departments, Jiang said the ministry could help reporters contact them later.