China defends Internet censorship after Obama lauds openness

China on Tuesday defended its control of information on the Internet that it deems sensitive or harmful, one day after U.S. President Barack Obama told students in Shanghai that information should be free.

The remarks highlighted ongoing tensions between China and the U.S. over human rights, another ideal Obama extolled in China.

"For the Chinese government, we hope online communications can move smoothly, but at the same time we need to ensure that online communications do not affect our national security," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told reporters at a question-and-answer session in Beijing. China also aims to prevent "adverse content" online from harming children in the country, he said.

China blocks Web sites including YouTube as part of its efforts to prevent sensitive political content from appearing online. It added Twitter and Facebook to its blocked list earlier this year after deadly ethnic riots in its western Muslim region, which also led China to cut off virtually all Internet access in Xinjiang province.

Obama, making his first visit to China as president, told local students at a question-and-answer session this week that freedom of information online can help people hold their government accountable and encourages them to think for themselves. Obama did not mention China's Internet policies, but his statements went beyond the views usually expressed by Chinese government officials or local media. Chinese Web site owners are expected by authorities to censor certain information about sensitive issues like corruption on their domains, including when it is posted by users, and can risk punishment for failing to do so.

"All men and women possess certain fundamental human rights," Obama said in a speech in Beijing on Tuesday that was broadcast on live national television. Chinese President Hu Jintao stood expressionless on the stage beside Obama as he spoke. "We do not believe these principles are unique to America, but rather they are universal rights, and they should be available to all peoples, and to all ethnic and religious minorities."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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