Chinese analysts yesterday tried to downplay suggestions in Western media that the Google case could lead to increased tension between Beijing and Washington, saying that bilateral ties are strong enough to withstand any disagreement.
It is "just a commercial dispute" that happens to a firm when it operates on foreign soil, said Niu Jun, an international affairs expert at Peking University.
In a move reflecting that opinion, the government repeated its standpoint that the issue is a technical matter, and not a political or diplomatic one, by having the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the State Council Information Office (SCIO) reply to US criticism.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to US President Barack Obama on Saturday, when he asked for Beijing to explain the Google case.
Officials from the two ministries yesterday rejected US accusations of cyber attacks and described Internet controls as legitimate and reasonable.
Their remarks came nearly two weeks after Google said it might quit China citing disagreements with government policies and unspecified attacks targeting its services in China.
"Accusations that the Chinese government participated in a cyber attack, either explicitly or implicitly, are groundless and aim to denigrate China. We are firmly opposed to that," Xinhua quoted an MIIT spokesman as saying.
"China's policy on Internet safety is transparent and consistent," the unnamed spokesman said, adding Beijing is keen to cooperate more with other countries on cyber security.
"China is the biggest victim country of hacking," the spokesman said.
Last year, more than 1 million IP addresses in China were attacked from overseas and more than 42,000 websites were targeted by hackers, the highest in the world.
According to the Internet Society of China, the number of cyber attacks from abroad saw a year-on-year increase of 148 percent in 2008.
Also yesterday, an SCIO spokesman said Internet regulation in the country is legitimate and should not be subject to "unjustifiable interference".
Regulation aims to "build a more reliable, helpful information network that is beneficial to economic and social development", he said on condition of anonymity.
Banning information which incites subversion of State power, violence or terrorism, or includes pornographic content, has nothing to do with the claims of "restrictions on Internet freedom", the spokesperson stressed.
People's Daily also criticized in an editorial the US' "so-called free press", saying what Washington calls free speech is "naked political scheming".
The paper accused the US of exploiting social media, such as Twitter and YouTube, to foment unrest in Iran.
"We're afraid that in the eyes of American politicians, only information controlled by America is free information, only news acknowledged by America is free news, only speech approved by America is free speech, and only information flow that suits American interests is free information flow," it said.
Some commentators and observers are worried the war of words will hurt ties between China and the US.
Reuters said the case was "raising the stakes in a dispute that has put Google in the middle of a political quarrel between the two global powers".
"The dispute has stoked friction between Beijing and Washington, already wrestling over trade, US weapons sales to Taiwan and human rights."
The Wall Street Journal said Washington, which "has started to talk about the seriousness of the problem", now "needs a plan to fix it".
But Chinese analysts said the impact of the case has been exaggerated, and that it would not harm Sino-US relations in the long term.
"The Google case reflects a new (cyber) problem, which is just rooted in old differences between the two countries," said Niu at Peking University.
He said Beijing and Washington differ on "recognizing what freedom of speech is".
Trade relations are "the only signpost" to reflect the condition of the bilateral ties, as they directly affect the two governments, he added.
Jin Canrong, an expert in international affairs at Renmin University of China, has a similar view.
"The politicization and ideological turn of the Google case could make it more difficult to work together," Jin said, but added: "The basic need for cooperation, economically and diplomatically, hasn't changed."
Zhou Qi, an expert on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, added: "It's an illusion if people think there would be no friction in an improving bilateral relationship.
"The case could be a small problem if you know frictions are just a normal part of ties," she said.