China denies it's in any talks with Google, wonders why

After a Reuters report on Friday cited China's Industry and Information Minister, Li Yizhong, as having told an indeterminate parliamentary body that the government was in talks with Google over its claims of having been hacked in early February by a Chinese malicious source, a vice minister for the same government agency issued a statement through China's Xinhua news agency denying any negotiations have taken place at all.

The denial was covered by Reuters as a request by the ministry for more information, so that China could prosecute Google's complaint. The Xinhua report itself (not a Google English-language translation of the report) states the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's position that Google never filed a complaint in the first place.

Last Tuesday, Xinhua quoted a spokesperson for a key Chinese political advisory body, Zhao Qizheng, as strongly denying Google's allegations of Chinese malicious hacking, specifically the implication that the government was involved. But being consistent, Qizheng and the Xinhua report were careful not to call Google's accusation a "charge."

If one reads the Xinhua reports at face value -- putting aside Reuters' interpretations of them -- they could represent China's attempt to call Google's bluff. Ever since the incident, the state-run news agency has reiterated that Google has threatened to pull out of the country, but has not done so. And a political cartoon published by Xinhua last Friday, entitled "Google and the Spooks," depicts the political association it would prefer Chinese citizens draw in their minds. It shows the familiar Google search page, with the logo embellished with Nixonian eyes and an American flag necktie bearing a National Security Agency seal.

The prevailing theory, put forth last month in The New York Times, is that the perpetrators of the alleged incident may have been vo-tech students of a certain Ukrainian professor who has been suspected of online mischief before. While on the surface that might appear to exonerate the Chinese government, the Times' source, a noted intelligence research analyst, warned readers not to draw that conclusion too quickly, saying the Chinese "have a different model" for exploiting targets. That source may have helped the Times uncover that Google had been working with the NSA to determine the source of the incident.

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