US Internet powerhouse Google Inc on Thursday said it was investigating reports that Chinese Web surfers had been blocked from Google.com amid a reported censorship crackdown.
The comments came two days after Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said users in many major Chinese cities had been having trouble connecting to the uncensored international version of Google for the past week.
"We have heard reports that users in China are experiencing problems accessing Google.com," a spokesman for the California-based company said. "We are investigating this matter."
The company has come under fire for launching in January a censored Chinese-language site called Google.cn, which remains available in China while the international Google.com appears to be blocked. Google.cn is censored according to the wishes of China's propaganda chiefs.
"Google has just definitively joined the club of Western companies that comply with online censorship in China," a Reporters Without Borders statement said on Wednesday.
"It is deplorable that Chinese Internet users are forced to wage a technological war against censorship in order to access banned content," the group said.
The broadside came Google co-founder Sergey Brin said on Tuesday during a visit to Capitol Hill that the company's decision to allow politically sensitive information to be filtered from its Chinese Web searches had compromised Google's principles and said it may rethink the move.
But the company said it is committed to doing business in China despite criticism the company has faced for abiding by Chinese government censorship restrictions, Brin said.
He reiterated Google's intention to move ahead with its google.cn site -- a version that censors thousands of sites according to Chinese standards -- as well as its global google.com site.
Brin told a small group of invited journalists: "I think it's perfectly reasonable to do something different. Say, OK, let's stand by the principle against censorship and we won't actually operate there."
But he then added: "That's an alternative path. It's not the one we've chosen to take right now."
"We sort of committed to try out this path and we are still actually trying to get it to work," Brin said.
A Google spokeswoman said the company had no further comment on Brin's remarks.
Brin said users in China have two options -- slower speed search which is uncensored at google.com, or faster search, with limits set by Chinese authorities at google.cn.
"If you are a normal Chinese user and you want to use Google, just go to google.com and you actually won't get good service," Brin said. "Eventually you will go to google.cn."
At a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (
"Any trade and commercial cooperation should be carried out within the framework of laws. We hope the relevant companies, when undertaking business operations, can abide by Chinese laws and regulations," Liu said.