China has denied it was involved in the December cyber attacks on Google and at least 33 other companies.
On Monday, the BBC reports, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology rejected claims that the state had anything to do with the attacks - or any others.
"The accusation that the Chinese government participated in [any] cyber attack, either in an explicit or inexplicit way, is groundless. We [are] firmly opposed to that," the unnamed spokesman told the government-run news agency, Xinhua. "China's policy on internet safety is transparent and consistent."
Google outed the attacks nearly two weeks ago, saying they originated in China. Mountain View threatened to leave the country if it couldn't reach an agreement with the Chinese government to stop censoring results on its local search engine.
According to Google, "a primary goal" of the the attackers was to access the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google said that attacks on two Gmail accounts were largely unsuccessful, but that a subsequent investigation showed that the accounts of dozens of activists in the US, China, and Europe "have been routinely accessed by third parties."
Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Chinese government to investigate Google's claims, saying: "Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century." She also backed Google's intention to stop filtering search results in China, saying that US outfits such as the Mountain View giant should not support "politically motivated censorship."
"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.”
This is the first time the Chinese government has addressed the cyber attacks head-on. Last week, however, it reiterated that Google and other foreign outfits must obey local law. That same day, Google postponed the launch of two Android phones in the country.
But later in the week, during the company's quarterly earnings call, CEO Eric Schmidt downplayed the situation, saying that the attacks "probably" came from China and that - as of now - Google's business in China is unchanged.
"We continue to follow their laws. We continue to offer censored results," he said. "A reasonably short time from now we will be making some changes there. We have made a strong statement we wish to remain in China. We like the Chinese people. We like our Chinese employees. We like the business opportunities there and we would like to do that on somewhat different terms than we have. But we remain quite committed to being there." ®
This story has been updated to clarify how Google characterized the attacks.