China said Friday that Google's threat to pull out of the country over cyberattacks and official censorship would not affect Beijing's overall trade and economic ties with the United States.
The comments from the commerce ministry came after Washington again demanded explanations from Beijing following the US Internet giant's allegations that it was the victim of cyberattacks.
The company has said it may abandon its operations in China, the world's largest online market with 360 million web users, and also has warned it will stop bowing to China's army of Internet censors.
"No matter what decision Google makes, it will not affect overall trade and economic relations between China and the United States," commerce ministry spokesman Yao Jian told reporters.
"The two countries have multiple communication channels. We are confident in the healthy development of economic and trade relations between China and the United States."
In Beijing's first official reaction Thursday, a foreign ministry spokeswoman insisted China's Internet was "open" but defended the censorship that prompted Google's shock announcement and told the firm to obey the law.
Yao echoed those remarks, saying foreign firms operating in the Asian giant should "respect the laws, public interest, culture and traditions in host countries, and take on social responsibilities accordingly".
"China is transferring from a traditional planned economy to a socialist market economy. Stability and development are our top priorities at the current stage," the commerce ministry spokesman said.
The row has threatened to rattle ties between Washington and Beijing, already frayed over a number of issues, from the Copenhagen climate change conference debacle to the value of the Chinese yuan and a number of other trade disputes.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded answers from China. On Thursday, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said US representatives had met with Chinese embassy officials in Washington on the matter.
"The incident raises questions about both Internet freedom and the security of the Internet in China," Crowley told reporters.
Google said more than 20 other unidentified firms were targeted in the "highly sophisticated" attacks, believed to have originated in China, while other reports have put the number of companies attacked at more than 30.
Officials in Washington have been reluctant to comment on how the Google case could affect bilateral ties, but one official, who asked not to be named, warned of future diplomatic fallout.
"If this was part of a deliberate strategy on behalf of China, it has implications," the official said.
US lawmakers on Thursday hailed Google's move and touted a draft bill that would prohibit US firms from storing users' personal information in countries that restrict the peaceful expression of political and religious views online.
Under the bill, called the Global Online Freedom Act, companies also would have to report to the State Department which search terms countries were trying to filter out.
"Google sent a thrill of encouragement through the hearts of millions of Chinese," Representative Chris Smith, the bill's chief sponsor, told a news conference. "It is a game-changer."
"But IT companies are not powerful enough to stand up to a repressive government like China," said Smith, a Republican from New Jersey.
"Without US government support, they are inevitably forced to be ever more complicit in the repressive governments' censorship and surveillance."
Microsoft said Thursday that a security vulnerability in its Internet Explorer browser was used in the spate of cyberattacks.
Web security firm McAfee Inc. said meanwhile that the attacks on Google and other companies showed a level of sophistication beyond that of cyber criminals and more typical of a nation-state.