Google Chairman Eric Schmidt says China needs to allow greater online freedoms if it wants to continue to grow its economy.
During a visit to Hong Kong Monday, Schmidt voiced concerns over new Chinese efforts to control online speech, including its 500 repost rule, which could mean a prison sentence for authors of messages deemed defamatory by the government.
He said freedom of speech will help the mainland avoid falling into the so-called “middle-income trap” of countries that are no longer poor but have trouble reaching the status of a high-income nation.
"The best government says, 'I want to solve the problems of smart people. I want to have entrepreneurs. I want to solve the jobless problem. I need more entrepreneurs, more innovation,'" he said. "We argue at Google that in order for you to have that, you have to have a free and open Internet, something that Hong Kong has and Mainland China does not."
Google left Mainland China and relocated its Chinese language servers to Hong Kong in 2010. The U.S. tech giant cited a trend of increasing censorship as well as intrusions by what it called "a highly-sophisticated hacker attack that originated in China."
Huang Qi, the owner of www.64tianwang.com, the first Chinese human rights web site, told VOA he appreciated Google's commitment to universal values and urged all foreign companies doing business in China to follow Google's example.
“For many years Google has upheld universal values when confronted with mainland China’s blockage of media and the Internet," said Huang. "It continuously never compromised, refusing economic enticements. This practice should be followed by international companies. We hope every company can put human rights and democratic ideals in a higher position, to refuse to be complicit in the authorities’ bad dealings, and safeguard mainland Chinese peoples’ human rights and media freedom.”
China is frequently accused by activists of trying to silence online debate to crack down on dissent.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.