01/14/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Google in China, flowers and candles for freedom of expression

Dissidents and net users leave flowers in front of the Chinese headquarters of the US-based company. Government says China welcomes everyone if they respect Chinese law, but adds that it has “a responsibility to shape public opinion.”

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Like at a vigil, net users in China laid flowers and lit candles to show their support for Google, which yesterday threatened to pull out of the mainland if censorship and espionage did not stop against dissidents who use the net to communicate with the outside world.

A security guard at Google’s headquarters in Beijing's Tsinghua Science Park complained that yesterday was the busiest day he had ever had. Not only was he obliged to bar every non-employee from entering the building, but also time and time again he had to go out and collect flowers.

The idea of bringing flowers was launched on Twitter, the highly popular free social networking and microblogging service that played a key role in Iran’s recent unrest.

Two university students, who laid chrysanthemums at the Google logo in front of the building, said, “We came here because we are furious about the government's persecution of Google and the entire internet censorship campaign. [. . .] But not every Chinese feels this way. We are, in fact, minorities. Some of our dorm mates are cheering on a shutdown. They regard it as just another defeat of American imperialism.”

Chinese dissidents are not so divided; all back the statement by the Mountain View, California-based company.

Activist Mo Zhixu bought a bouquet of carnations and lilies for his tribute. "My friends on Twitter suggested carnations and lily because they symbolise persistence," he said.

"I am very sorry for Google and I am sad about this. In the short term, Google China's shutdown means Chinese internet users will have fewer choices," he said. "But in the long run, it's a good thing because we should have a bottom line for our principles, and we should protect our freedom of speech."

Zeng Jinyan, the wife of prominent activist Hu Jia, said she staged a candlelight vigil at home last night and prepared placards in support of Google's announcement.

"No political censorship, no co-operation with autocratic power," one placard read. "Freedom for Chinese netizens, free Hu Jia," said another.

Still, the government did not loosen its hold on the net—in the censored portion of cyberspace there was little awareness or discussion of events. Both Netease and Sina dedicated a whole page of stories to the announcement yesterday morning, but the pages were removed by the afternoon.

For its part, Beijing defends censorship. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu said, “China welcomes international Internet companies to conduct business within the country according to [Chinese] law.”

In a statement posted on the State Council Information Office website, cabinet spokesman Wang Chen warned against pornography, cyber-attacks, online fraud and “rumours”, saying that government and internet media have a responsibility to “shape public opinion”.

China today has the biggest number of internet users with 360 million people.

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