BEIJING - Google "will bear the consequences" if it stops censoring search results on its Chinese website, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said on Friday.
The statement by Minister Li Yizhong at a press conference was the strongest one yet by the Chinese government over the issue since Jan 12, when the US-based Internet search giant threatened to pull out of China because of cyber attacks that it claimed originated from the country.
The Chinese government welcomes Google to expand its market share in the country if it abides by Chinese laws and regulations, Li said.
But when reporters asked him what China would do if Google stops censoring search results on its local website, Li, 65, said: "If you don't respect Chinese laws, you are unfriendly and irresponsible, and you will bear the consequences."
Google has been in negotiations with Chinese authorities over providing unfiltered online services since its announcement two months ago of the alleged cyber attacks and its unwillingness to continue censoring its search results on domestic website Google.cn.
But talks between the Chinese authorities and Google have made little headway, with MIIT Vice-Minister Miao Wei telling reporters earlier that there has not been any "direct contact" with the search engine.
Google was reportedly planning to stop censorship of its search results on its Chinese website within weeks, the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday cited an unnamed source as saying. The report came shortly after Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he expected his company to reach a conclusion soon in its talks with the Chinese government.
Google may end up making individual agreements with different Chinese agencies to allow it to operate some parts of its business in a patchwork arrangement, the newspaper reported.
Li on Friday did not confirm if his ministry was in talks with Google.
Still, he said Google has "done a good job" by taking up 30 percent of China's search engine market since it entered the country in 2007.
"If Google chooses to stay, that will be beneficial to China's Internet market and we welcome that," Li said.
But China respects Google's rights if it decides to pull out of the country and the country's online market will continue to grow with or without Google, he said.
Google established a joint venture in China in 2007 and launched its domestic website Google.cn. The domestic website accepts the government's requirement to censor some of the content such as political issues and pornography.
Such content needs to be regulated by the government, according to current Chinese laws and regulations.
The country's Internet market is open and government regulation of it is in line with international practices, Li said.