Bill Gates Makes Cryptic Remark on Internet Rights to China's Hu

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates made a cryptic remark about Internet freedom at a luncheon with Chinese President Hu Jintao, underscoring the sensitivity of the issue.

"This new era of an Internet-based economy also presents new challenges to us all," Gates said in a speech that preceded Hu's to a gathering of about 600 people at a luncheon hosted for the visiting Chinese president.

"It is my belief that industry and government around the world should work even more closely to protect the privacy and security of Internet users, and promote the exchange of ideas, while respecting legitimate government considerations."

The statement appeared to be urging China to respect the rights of Internet users, but also seemed to suggest Gates thinks "legitimate" government worries need to be taken into consideration, without defining legitimate.

Lou Gellos, a Microsoft spokesman, declined to say later what Gates meant or reveal whether Gates had raised the issues of Internet censorship with the Chinese leader on the first stop of Hu's official visit to the United States.

But former Washington state governor Gary Locke and Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said no one raised the issue of human rights with Hu during the two-day visit in the Seattle area.

Hu left Washington Wednesday afternoon to fly to the US capital for a summit with Bush on Thursday.

China's government routinely jails people for posting politically sensitive essays online, including those critical of the Communist Party, and regularly shuts down or censors websites for sensitive content, including any mention of Taiwan independence or the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Software giant Microsoft and search engines Google and Yahoo have all faced criticism for doctoring content on their Chinese services and products to suit Beijing's strict censorship rules.

Further, Yahoo has faced international condemnation for providing information to authorities that led to the jailing of two online dissident writers.

Copyright 2006 Agence France Presse.

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