Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates has described Beijing's efforts to censor the Internet as "very limited", saying corporations which operate in China should abide by the local law.
In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America on Monday about Google's dispute with China, Gates said the Internet is subject to different kinds of censorship around the world, noting that Germany forbids pro-Nazi statements that would be protected as free speech in the United States.
"And you've got to decide: Do you want to obey the laws of the countries you're in, or not? If not, you may not end up doing business there," Gates, the world's richest man, said without mentioning the search engine giant by name.
"The Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited and so I think keeping the Internet thriving there is very important."
He declared he was unimpressed and a bit perplexed by Google's recent threat to shut down its operations in China, citing disagreements with government policies and unspecified attacks.
One may or may not agree with the laws in China, Gates said, but nearly all countries have some controversial laws or policies, including the United States.
"What point are they making?" Gates asked. "Now, if Google ever chooses to pull out of the United States, then I'd give them credit."
Google is currently in delicate negotiations with the Chinese government to continue its presence in the world's most populous Internet market.
Its top lawyer said on Monday that the issue would probably be resolved in weeks, but cautioned it could take months.
Google's complaints have received backing from the White House with Washington soon raising Internet freedom to the level of a major facet of its human rights agenda.
Beijing has tried hard to play down the row with Washington over the issue, insisting that the Google case is just a legal and technical matter that should not be linked to bilateral ties.
Observers agree with Gates' remarks on following local rules, noting the US bans child pornography while France bans Internet access to Nazi imagery.
Fan Jishe, a scholar in US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said every country has its own way of online supervision.
He said the Google dispute is only an excuse for the Obama administration to criticize China on Internet freedom. He said even if the Google issue had not come to the fore, Obama would have exerted pressure on Internet freedom sooner or later.
He noted that Obama had held up the United States as a model of free flow of information during his visit to Shanghai last year.
He Jingchu, a professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law said in an article yesterday that Obama's over-interpretation of the issue is aimed at diverting domestic attention from his unsatisfactory political achievements to the Sino-US relationship, the world's most important.
Zhang Haizhou contributed to the story