Beijing has hit out at proposals by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to support cyber-activism and a free Internet, warning Washington not to use the issues to meddle in China's internal affairs.
"We are opposed to any country using Internet freedom as a pretext for interference in Chinese affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a regular news briefing on Thursday.
Ma told reporters: "Internet freedom in China is guaranteed by law, and China wishes to step up and strengthen dialogue and communication with other countries about relevant matters concerning the Internet."
Clinton urged governments around the world on Tuesday to end Internet censorship, or risk the kind social and political unrest sweeping through the Middle East.
She also pledged strong U.S. support for cyber-dissidents worldwide who wish to circumvent government censorship and protect themselves from reprisals.
China's official Xinhua news agency accused Clinton in a commentary on Thursday of "double standards."
"[The United States] is nakedly embarking on a course of double standards with its policy of 'Internet freedom,'" the article said.
"This shows its unilateralist attitude."
Xinhua also published an article titled: "Unilateralism on the part of the United States has opened the door to unrest in the Middle East."
Meanwhile, postings promoting Clinton's speech to the microblog account of the U.S. embassy in Beijing were blocked by China's system of Internet blocks and filters called the Great Firewall, or GFW.
One post on Chinese microblogging site Tencent Weibo by U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Hunstman quoted Mrs. Clinton's remarks that "Liberty and security are often presented as equal and opposite," and asked: "What do you think is more important, liberty or security?"
Another post questioned whether other users agreed with Mrs. Clinton that "freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace."
The embassy has been using microblogs and other online services in China in a effort to connect with Chinese citizens.
Online searches for the word "Hillary" in Chinese were also reportedly blocked on at least one site.
"We are disappointed that some Chinese Internet sites have decided to remove discussion of Secretary Clinton's Internet Freedom speech from their websites," Huntsman said in a statement.
"It is ironic that the Chinese are blocking an online discussion about Internet freedom."
Clinton had also singled out the role of social networking sites Twitter and Facebook in organizing protests in the Middle East. Both sites are blocked in China, although there are homegrown, censored, equivalents.
Warning to censors
Beijing routinely blocks the websites of foreign news organizations, including RFA, and filters keywords that it regards as "sensitive," including search terms for the uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
In her speech, Clinton warned that regimes that clamp down on Internet freedom could pay the price in terms of their nation's development.
Under U.S.-backed proposals, circumvention tools will be made more widely available to countries lacking free Internet access, while bloggers and rights activists will receive training about how to secure their e-mail from surveillance or wipe incriminating data from cell phones if they are detained.
Chinese activists and bloggers have expressed mixed feelings about events in the Middle East, according to prominent blogger Yang Hengjun.
"The mood is partly happy ... that democracy can come so quickly, but also sad about when it is ever going to come to China," Yang said.
"I think the two moods are entwined together ... among ordinary Chinese people."
Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service and by Bi Zimo for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.