Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu called remarks Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "harmful to Sino-American relations."
Clinton called on the Chinese to conduct a "thorough investigation of the cyber intrusions" that hit Google and other Western companies in recent weeks that are believed to have emanated from China.
"We also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent," Clinton said, during a speech in which Clinton called on world governments to establish policies toward a more open Internet.
But Zhaoxu said Clinton's singling out of China was inappropriate and misguided, and constituted an inappropriate meddling in Chinese affairs. "The Chinese Internet is open," Zhaoxu said in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's Web site.
The tit-for-tit between senior American and Chinese diplomats is the latest salvo in a growing conflict between the two countries over Internet freedoms.
China routinely blocks content that it deems subversive to the Communist regime and has hacked e-mail accounts of dissidents and even foreign visitors and journalists.
U.S. officials, for their part, have urged China to scale back its Internet censorship while American tech vendors, including Google, have sought to use their economic clout to persuade China to respect international norms concerning privacy and the protection of intellectual property.
The simmering conflict flared up earlier this month after Google accused China of involvement in hackers' attempts to break into its servers in an effort to gain access to some Chinese citizens' Gmail accounts.
Google's response included a threat to pull out of the Chinese market altogether. "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn," company officials said in a Jan. 12 blog post.
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