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03may20107Months after leaving China due to censorship issues, the world's largest search engine is asking U.S. and European governments to put more pressure on China to stop censoring the Internet, describing it as an unfair barrier to free trade.

Google's top attorney, David Drummond told reporters Wednesday that western states should defend the free trade in information with the same kind of rules that they use to complain of China's below-cost sale of products.

He said government talks are "the only way that it's going to change, that this tide of censorship or this rising censorship is going to be arrested."

The company sparred with Chinese leaders earlier this year when it stopped self-censoring its search results in line with Chinese rules after it said Chinese hackers had tried to plunder its software coding and hijack the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.

Since late March, Google has been redirecting search requests from mainland China to Hong Kong, which doesn't have the same restrictions.

"The cyber attack was sort of the final straw because we felt that it was increasingly hard to do business there in accordance with our values," Drummond said, describing the company as in danger of becoming "part of the same apparatus" of Chinese state censorship.

"Censorship, in addition to being a human rights problem, is a trade barrier," he said. "If you look at what China does _ the censorship, of course, is for political purposes but it is also used as a way of keeping multinational companies disadvantaged in the market."

"It should be obvious that the Internet sector is very important to the west and so we should be working on seeing that that kind of trade is protected," he said.

Drummond would not comment on whether he believed the United States could take a case under World Trade Organization rules against China, which can ultimately allow the US to seek trading rights in compensation for any proven harm to its companies.

Instead, he said new trade rules may be needed to cover the Internet.

"Under a lot of trade rules, there's still this notion that domestic media markets should be off limits to trade and that's got to change," he said.

He said he'd had some support in discussions with the US, French and German governments and with the European Union executive for pressing Google's case and Chinese restrictions on the Internet in bilateral and multilateral talks.

The European Union persistently raises human rights issues with China, usually without much success. Indeed, a Chinese state multibillion dollar buying spree to Europe last year pointedly shunned France after President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to boycott the opening of the Beijing Olympics over unrest in Tibet. China refuses to hold talks with the Tibetan government in exile.

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