China rejects Google accusation of blocked e-mail

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing on Tuesday rejected accusations it was blocking access to Google’s e-mail services in China amid an intensified Internet crackdown prompted by fears that unrest in the Middle East could spread.

“We do not accept such accusations,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters when asked about a statement by Google issued Sunday. She referred questions on technical matters to the Cabinet’s information office.

Some Google users in China have reported experiencing difficulties accessing their e-mail service in recent weeks, and the company said in a brief statement that its engineers had determined there were no technical problems with the e-mail service or its main website.

“There is no technical issue on our side; we have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail,” the statement said.

China has strict controls over the Internet and blocks many international social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The controls have intensified since the pro-democracy protests erupted across the Middle East in January.

Around that time, anonymous calls for protesters to gather for a “Jasmine Revolution” in China triggered a crackdown by Chinese authorities, who stepped up Web censorship and deployed huge numbers of police to planned protest sites. No protests happened.

Google officials said the recent blocking in China, the world’s most populous Internet market, appears to be more sophisticated than other problems experienced by users in the past because the disruption is not a complete block.

In addition, a March 11 blog post by Google about security said the company had “noticed some highly targeted and apparently politically motivated attacks against our users.

“We believe activists may have been a specific target,” the posting said. Google declined to elaborate on which activists had been targeted or where the attacks had originated.

A company spokesman refused to say whether Google had raised the issue directly with Chinese government officials.

The run-in is the latest spat Google has engaged in with the Chinese government. In January last year, Google said it would no longer cooperate with China’s requirement to censor search results for banned sites or content. It also complained about major attacks on its website by Chinese hackers, suggesting the government may have instigated them.

Google has since moved its Chinese-language search engine to Hong Kong, which operates under separate rules from the rest of mainland China.