BRUSSELS — Google Inc.’s top lawyer said the leading search engine is asking US and European governments to press China to lift Internet censorship, describing it as a barrier to free trade.
David Drummond said yesterday that Western states should defend the free trade in information with the same kind of rules they use to fight China’s below-cost sales of products.
He said government talks are “the only way that it’s going to change, that this tide of censorship or this rising censorship is going to be arrested.’’
The company sparred with Chinese leaders this year when it stopped self-censoring its search results after it said Chinese hackers had tried to plunder its software coding and hijack human rights activists’ Gmail accounts.
Since March, Google has been redirecting search requests from mainland China to Hong Kong, which doesn’t have the same censorship rules.
“The cyber attack was sort of the final straw because we felt that it was increasingly hard to do business there in accordance with our values,’’ Drummond said, describing the company as in danger of becoming “part of the same apparatus’’ of Chinese state censorship.
“Censorship, in addition to being a human rights problem, is a trade barrier,’’ he said, that keeps “multinational companies disadvantaged in the market.’’
“It should be obvious that the Internet sector is very important to the West,’’ he said.
Drummond would not comment on whether he believed the United States could initiate a case against China under World Trade Organization rules.
He said new trade rules may be needed to cover the Internet.
“Under a lot of trade rules, there’s still this notion that domestic media markets should be off limits to trade, and that’s got to change,’’ he said.
He said he had some support in discussions with the US, French, and German governments and with the European Union for pressing Google’s case.
The European Union persistently raises human rights issues with China, usually without much success.
Indeed, a Chinese state multibillion-dollar buying spree in Europe last year pointedly shunned France after its president, Nicolas Sarkozy, threatened to boycott the opening of the Beijing Olympics because of unrest in Tibet.
China refuses to hold talks with the Tibetan government in exile.