China tells Web companies to obey controls

China’s ruling party newspaper warned Internet companies Thursday to obey government controls as Web users watched anxiously to see whether Google carries out a threat to leave the country over censorship.

There was still no government response to Google Inc.’s announcement that it might pull out of China. But Peoples Daily, citing a Cabinet official’s comments in November, said companies must help the government keep the Internet safe and fight online pornography and cyber attacks.

Web companies must abide by “propaganda discipline,” the official, Wang Chen, was quoted as saying. “Companies have to concretely increase the ability of Internet media to guide public opinion in order to uphold Internet safety.”

The government’s Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday officials were seeking more information about Google’s announcement. The foreign ministry did not immediately respond Thursday to questions about whether the two sides had talked.

Internet users who were dismayed at the prospect of China without Google left flowers outside the search giant’s China headquarters in Beijing for a second day. Some poured small glasses of liquor, a Chinese funeral ritual.

One man left a copy of Peoples Daily, which he said represented the tightly controlled state media that China’s public would be left with if Google pulls out and censorship continues. Notes posted on Chinese Web sites praised Google as an information source and some called on the government to find a compromise.

Employees entered and left Google’s building but declined to talk to reporters.

Google said Tuesday it might shut down its China-based site over concerns about censorship and after hacking attempts on its e-mail service from within China. The company’s U.S. site has a Chinese-language section but Beijing’s filters make that slow and difficult to access from China.

Beijing promotes Internet use for business and education but operates an extensive filtering system to block access to material deemed subversive or pornographic, including Web sites run by dissidents and human rights groups. Its market of 338 million Internet users is the world’s most populous.

The Global Times, published by Peoples Daily and known for a fiercely nationalistic tone, took an unusually conciliatory stance, warning Thursday that Google’s departure would be a “lose-lose situation” for China.

“Google is taking extreme measures but it is reminding us that we should pay attention to the issue of the free flow of information,” the paper said. It said China’s national influence and competitiveness depend on access to information and added, “We have to advance with the times.”

The White House said Wednesday it was briefed by Google on its plans in China but refused to give details. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama made his stance on Internet freedom clear during his trip to China in November, when he told students an open exchange of information makes all countries stronger.

Gibbs said the White House is awaiting China’s response to Google’s announcement. Asked whether the incident could cause a U.S.-China chill, Giggs said: “We stood in China when we gave the answer about a free Internet. So, the president and this administration have beliefs about the freedom of the Internet.”

It appeared unlikely other companies might follow Google’s lead and try to change how business is done in China.

“As long as you aren’t involved in politics, the media or pornography, the government will leave you alone,” said Siva Yam, president of the United States of America-China Chamber of Commerce, which primarily represents U.S. companies in China.

Associated Press