Chinese authorities blocked search results for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after she gave a speech championing internet freedom. (File Photo/Xinhua)
Amid a heightened crackdown on dissent in China, the United States plans to pour millions of dollars into new technology to break through China's "Great Firewall," the internet censorship operated by the Chinese authorities.
Officials of the US State Department said they would give US$19 million to help evade internet controls in China, Iran and other authoritarian states which block online access to politically sensitive material, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The funding would support a cutting-edge technology that acts as a "slingshot" -- identifying material that countries are censoring and throwing it back at them, said Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state in charge of human rights.
"We're responding with new tools. This is a cat-and-mouse game. We're trying to stay one step ahead of the cat," Posner said, according to AFP.
"This can be done through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn't figured out how to block," he said.
The announcement came shortly after the United States and China held wide-ranging annual talks in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed exasperation at Beijing's intensifying clampdown on domestic critics.
China routinely blocks sites that present non-official viewpoints on various sensitive topics. Recently, Chinese authorities even blocked search results for "Hillary Clinton" after she gave a speech championing internet freedom as well as the word "jasmine," an allusion to the pro-democracy uprisings sweeping the Arab world.
The funding comes out of US$30 million which the US Congress allocated for the current fiscal year for promoting internet freedom.
However, US lawmakers have accused the State Department of kowtowing to China as the department could have taken the move earlier.
A US Senate committee report said in February that State Department efforts to combat internet censorship in China and other countries have fallen short and funding for the drive should be shifted to another US agency.
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee report sharply criticized the State Department for being slow in spending money allocated by the US Congress for Internet Censorship Circumvention Technology (ICCT).
The report suggested the delays in allocating funding were partly because some of the most sophisticated ICCT software were developed by two US companies founded by members of the religious group Falun Gong, which is banned in China, to allow followers to break through the Great Firewall.
The report also said the delays in allocating funding have "strengthened the hands of those governments, including China's, who seek to restrict their citizens' access to information."