Published January 21, 2010
Hillary Rodham Clinton blasted China and other countries that restrict Internet access to their citizens in a speech Thursday morning, citing new policy initiatives to foster freedom.
In the wide-ranging address at Washington's Newseum, Clinton said that in the last year there has been what she called a "spike in threats to the free flow of information." She announced plans to make unrestricted access to the Internet a top foreign-policy priority.
The announcement comes in the wake of accusations last week that Chinese hackers penetrated Google's computer networks.
"We look to the Chinese government to conduct a through and transparent review" following the incident, Clinton said, arguing that countries that restrict free access to information and basic Internet freedom risk walling themselves off in the next century. She said the U.S. would address differences with China on Internet freedom "candidly and consistently."
State Department officials have said they intend soon to lodge a formal complaint with Chinese officials over the Google matter, which a senior Chinese government official said Thursday should not affect U.S.-China relations.
Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said in Beijing, "The Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries; otherwise, it's an over-interpretation," according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The growing role of the Internet in foreign policy became clear last year during protests in Iran after allegations of election fraud. The government tried to crack down on protesters' Internet communications, but they circumvented digital blockades to send out video and Twitter messages about violence against demonstrators.
In one new initiative, the State Department plans to offer financial support to grass-roots movements that promote Internet freedom and advance U.S. diplomatic goals. Clinton unveiled a competition to develop the best tools, citing an application from Microsoft that could bring digital health care to remote locations.
Clinton also hopes to diminish the "honor" beatings and killings of women in the Middle East by family members who discover they are using social media on the Internet, such as Facebook or Twitter, said Alec Ross, a senior adviser.
The secretary of state cited plans to convene a high-level meeting on Internet freedom next month with those firms that provide network access, in another effort to foster freedom online.
Clinton sees Internet freedom as critical to America's longstanding promotion of democracy abroad, Mr. Ross added. She aims to shrink the proportion of the global population who live in countries that censor the Internet, he said.
"When we sit across the table from governments and talk about what matters to us, this is now on the table," Mr Ross said.
In her remarks, Clinton said it is clear that information technologies are transforming the world, yet it is unclear how that transformation will affect the human rights and welfare of much of the world's population.