Chinese state media stepped up their war of words with the United States over Internet control on Tuesday, with a top newspaper claiming a US conspiracy and saying China can live without Google.
China's Foreign Ministry, however, also signaled it did not want the dispute to boil over, saying recent stability in Sino-U.S. ties had been "hard-won."
Two weeks ago the world's biggest search engine provider, Google, threatened to shut its Chinese Google.cn portal and to pull out from China, citing problems of censorship and a sophisticated hacking attack from within the country. In the meantime, it is still filtering sensitive content.
The Obama administration has backed Google's criticisms, and on Thursday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China to drop Internet censorship and investigate the hacking, which some experts say could have been organized by Beijing.
After first fending off the criticisms from Google and Washington with tight-lipped restraint, Chinese officials and state-run media have launched a shower of scorn that has the hallmarks of a concerted counter-campaign.
The country's top newspaper warned that the Internet row was hurting broader bilateral relations - which have also been strained by currency and trade disputes, US arms sales to Taiwan, and the possibility President Barack Obama will meet the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing calls a separatist.
"These statements and actions disregard reality and harm China's national image, upsetting the healthy and stable development of Sino-US ties," the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's chief mouthpiece, said today.
"It is not difficult to see the shadow of the US government behind the politicization of the Google affair."
Washington had exploited Google's claims "in an effort to restrict China's right to protect its national security and interests on the Internet," the newspaper said.
Google has said it wants talks with the Chinese government about solving its complaints.
"Perhaps Google has already realized that China can do without Google, but without China, Google does not have a future," the People's Daily retorted.
China hoped both nations could respect each other's "core interests and critical concerns," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a regular news briefing.
"If you look at Sino-US relations over the last year, under the joint efforts of both sides ties overall have kept to a stable developing trend. We should say this situation has been hard-won, and so it merits both sides keeping it this way."
Ma repeated China's condemnation of recent U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island China claims as its own.
The outpouring of criticism, echoed in other prominent Chinese newspapers, suggests Clinton's speech riled Beijing's wary leaders, who have long believed the West is bent on undermining Communist Party power.
China's propaganda authorities regularly unleash the state-controlled domestic press to defend policies at tense times, especially when Beijing comes under pressure from abroad.
"The media criticism is certainly orchestrated to send a message from the Chinese government, but it's also trying to shift the target from Google to the US government," said Li Datong, a former senior editor with the China Youth Daily, who was shunted aside after complaining of censorship.
"That doesn't mean there's no room for compromise, but in public the Chinese government never likes being seen as going soft," Li told Reuters.
China defends its Internet controls as necessary to protect minors, although many other sensitive issues are blocked, including discussion of the 1989 bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations around Tiananmen Square.
China has blocked sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTube following ethnic riots in restive Xinjiang and Tibet.
Beijing denies the hacking accusations, saying instead that China is a major victim of hackers.Reuse content