China warns Google not to stop filtering web searches

China on Friday warned Google it would face "consequences" if it stopped filtering its search results, after the firm threatened to leave the country over cyberattacks and web censorship.

The comments from the minister of industry and information technology, Li Yizhong, came after the US Internet giant said it was prepared to leave the world's largest online market if Beijing continues to insist on its censoring its web searches.

"We support (Google) to expand its business and market share in China," Li told reporters at a briefing on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People's Congress, the country's parliament.

"But if (it)... violates Chinese laws, it would be unfriendly and irresponsible and (the company) will definitely be responsible for the consequences," he said.

Beijing tightly controls online content in a vast system of censorship often called the "Great Firewall of China", removing information it deems harmful - including pornography and violence, but also politically sensitive material.

Google threatened in January to abandon its Chinese-language search engine and perhaps leave China altogether over what it said were cyberattacks aimed at its source code and at the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

The company has since continued to filter results on Google.cn and posted ads for dozens of positions in China, which has 384 million web users.

Google has said it was currently in talks with the Chinese government on its future in the nation.

"Google is firm in its decision that it will stop censoring our search results for China," Google vice president and deputy general counsel Nicole Wong told the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee this week.

"If the option is that we'll shutter our .cn operation and leave the country, we are prepared to do that," she said at a hearing on the relationship between Internet technology and aiding democratic activists around the world.

The company has not given a time frame for ending its filtering.

Li, the Chinese industry minister, said Google's withdrawal would not generate much of an impact on the country's Internet market.

"If it decides not to withdraw and stay in China, we will welcome it and it will benefit China's Internet development," he said.

"If it decides to leave... China's Internet market will continue to develop fast and will not be impacted too much."

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