US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his support for online freedom in China at a meeting in Beijing with bloggers concerned about the authorities' crackdown on internet discourse.
In the 40-minute session yesterday, the bloggers discussed the need for internet freedom, human rights, China's territorial dispute with Japan, and even US President Barack Obama's travel plans, said a reporter who attended the meeting on behalf of journalists travelling with Kerry.
Kerry said he had urged Chinese leaders to support internet freedom and also raised the issue of press freedom in China.
"Obviously we think that the Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the internet," he said.
Blogger Zhang Jialong asked if the United States would get together with the "Chinese who aspire for freedom" and help "tear down the great internet firewall", complaining that US companies were helping Beijing block access to popular foreign social media sites like Twitter.
Kerry said it was the first time he had heard complaints that US firms were helping the Chinese government control internet access and that he would look into it. Microsoft last week denied that it was omitting websites from its Bing search engine results for users outside China after a Chinese rights group accused the US firm of censoring material the government deemed politically sensitive.
The United States and China have long clashed over freedom of expression and human rights, with Washington often calling for dissidents such as anti-corruption campaigner Xu Zhiyong and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo to be released.
"We constantly press these [human rights] issues at all of our meetings, whether it is in the US or here, at every level," Kerry said. But it was not the US' role to lecture, he added.
Last year, the Communist Party renewed a campaign to control online interaction, threatening legal action against those whose perceived rumours on microblogs were reposted more than 500 times or seen by more than 5,000 people.
Additional Reporting by Agence France-Presse