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U.S. weighing China Internet censorship case

WASHINGTON – The United States is studying whether it can legally challenge Chinese Internet restrictions that hurt Google and other U.S. companies operating in China, but direct talks with Beijing might yield faster results, the top U.S. trade official said on Tuesday.

“We are still dialoguing not just with Google, but with other Internet providers, to make sure we fully understand what is happening in China,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in remarks at the National Press Club.

At the same time, U.S. trade officials are “trying to make our own determination whether we believe in fact this is not WTO compliant and if the best resolution is to go forward and file an appeal,” Kirk said.

A case challenging censorship practices that affect Google and other Internet providers who operate in China would be the first of its kind at the WTO.

A U.S. free speech group known as the First Amendment Coalition had been urging such a case for years before Google threatened to leave China in January due to hacking incidents and Web restrictions.

Kirk said trying to resolve the issue through bilateral forums such as the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade was “much more preferable than the uncertain path of what can be a two-, three-, four-year legal battle in the WTO.”

U.S. companies can not wait that long for a solution in the current economic environment, although the United States will not hesitate to go to the WTO when that is the only solution it has left, Kirk said.

Kirk noted Google and China have been in “very intense negotiations” since the company’s threat to leave.

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