China on Thursday responded to U.S. concerns about its blocking of company websites, saying that China’s Internet policies are open and clear. However, China said it objected to the U.S. exploiting the issue of Internet freedoms to interfere in its internal affairs.
“The Chinese government encourages and actively supports the Internet’s development and we also protect the freedom of expression of citizens in China,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu. “We welcome foreign companies to invest and develop here, and we will continue to foster an open policy market.”
“To promote the healthy development of the Internet, we are willing to work together to set up communication and exchanges,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced it was asking China to explain its policies covering the blocking of U.S. company websites in the country. The request, filed under World Trade Organization rules, is an effort to understand the trade impact of such blocking after a number of U.S. businesses have made complaints about access to their websites in China.
China heavily censors the Internet for anti-government and politically sensitive content. As a result, popular U.S. websites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have all been blocked in the country. The censorship is so prevalent, that companies including Google, have complained that the Internet blocking acts as a kind of trade barrier.
While China’s foreign ministry said the country’s Internet policies have been open and clear, the country’s online censorship has often occurred without explanation when in practice. At times, Twitter-like services operated by local Chinese companies have blocked certain terms linked with protesting or Internet freedoms. Google also reported in March that its Gmail service was being blocked, a move experts said was part of a government-backed information clampdown.
The U.S. Trade Representative requests specifically seeks to understand how China’s Internet policies work so that U.S. companies can avoid disruptions to their websites. Some of the questions include who in China determines which websites should be blocked, and if affected businesses can appeal the decision.