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Google postpones China phone launch over censorship row

The row over China's censorship of the internet deepened as Google delayed the launch of two phones running its operating system. Last week Google threatened to pull out of China.

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AFP - Google said Tuesday it had postponed the launch of two mobile handsets in China, in the latest fallout from its threat last week to withdraw from the Asian giant over cyberattacks and censorship.

The US company said in an email to AFP that the phones featuring Google's Android operating system and developed in cooperation with Motorola and Samsung had been scheduled to be unveiled Wednesday with China Unicom.

"The launch has been postponed," Google said, without specifying when or if the launch would take place.

Google said last week it was considering abandoning its Chinese search engine, and could shut its China offices, over theft of its intellectual property by hackers allegedly based there.

The row has threatened to strain ties between the United States and China.

The California-based company says it is no longer willing to bow to Chinese Internet censors by filtering search results on google.cn, but is still seeking talks with Beijing on a solution.

When asked about the status of talks on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said he was "not aware of the situation" and countered that China was in fact the "biggest victim" of hacking activities in the world.

The spokesman also reiterated that foreign firms operating in China "need to follow China's laws and regulations, respect the interests of the general public and shoulder the corresponding responsibilities."

"Google is not an exception," he said.

Google said the cyberattacks were likely aimed at gaining access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, but has said it does not believe that goal was achieved.

The company is checking whether any of its China staff helped hackers lead the attack, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The search giant said more than 20 other unidentified firms were targeted in the "highly sophisticated" attacks, believed to have originated in China, while other reports have put the number of companies attacked at more than 30.

The row has threatened to rattle ties between Washington and Beijing -- already frayed over a number of issues, from the Copenhagen climate change debacle to the value of the Chinese yuan and a number of other trade disputes.

The United States has informally asked for an explanation from Beijing over the Google dispute, and could launch a formal diplomatic request on the issue as soon as this week, the State Department has said.

A Chinese commerce ministry spokesman said last week the row would not affect "overall trade and economic relations between China and the United States".

Google's Android mobile operating system has been featured in a number of phones, starting with T-Mobile's G1 in October 2008 and more recently with the Droid from Motorola.

The company earlier this month unveiled its own Nexus One smartphone in the United States, in a direct challenge to Apple's iPhone handsets.

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