The top American official in China says the U.S. government will stay out of negotiations between Internet giant Google and the Chinese government. At the same time, though, he stressed that the issue of Internet freedom is related to free speech, which is a core American value.
U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, has only been on the job five months. But his busy term has included a visit to China by the American president and U.S.-China disagreements over issues like climate change, Taiwan and Tibet.
The latest topic in the spotlight is Internet freedom, following an announcement this week by Google that it is considering pulling out of China because of cyber attacks and Internet censorship.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement, saying Washington is very concerned about the Google developments.
In an interview Friday, Huntsman said Americans have very strong feelings about free speech.
"This is an issue that impinges upon probably one of the most important of all the issues that we stand for as a country and that is freedom of expression, freedom of speech and Internet freedom," he said.
He said the U.S. government sees the American company's negotiations with China as a business matter and therefore will not get involved.
"This is an issue that will play out for some time between Google and Google's partners here in China and the Chinese government, and they will make whatever decisions Google feels is appropriate. That won't be influenced by the United States government," he said.
The U.S. official said although the focus is on Google right now, this will lead to a broader discussion about free expression and Internet freedom in the commercial realm.
"It is very difficult in today's environment to do business, anywhere in the world, without some sort of commitment to openness, transparency, and freedom. That is kind of where the world is inexorably going," he said.
Huntsman also addressed concerns that cyber hackers based in China have, for years, been attacking U.S. government computers.
"It has been ongoing for a long time. It is deeply disturbing. It is being discussed in appropriate channels," he said.
He did not give specifics on the status of negotiations, but said it is, in his words, "a very important issue between the United States and China," and is being addressed at the appropriate level.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu this week was asked if the Chinese government has been involved in any of the cyber attacks that originated in China. She said cyber attacks are against Chinese law, but referred reporters to what she described as the "competent authorities."