Google Inc.'s CEO said Wednesday the Internet search company is in active negotiations with the Chinese government and expects some resolution in its dispute with Beijing soon.
Speaking at a media conference in the Middle East, Eric Schmidt declined to provide specifics or predict how long the discussions would last, saying that the company has decided not to publicize details of the talks.
I can't really say anything other than that we're in active negotiations with the Chinese government, and there is no specific timetable," Schmidt told reporters in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi. "Something will happen soon."
Google's comments come just days after China dismissed reports that talks were underway over the company's threat to shut down its China-based search service unless the government relented on censorship.
On Saturday, Chinese vice minister of industry and information technology Miao Wei was quoted as saying that there had been no negotiations with Google.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet company said in January it was alarmed by hacking attacks on it and other companies that appeared to originate from China. Google also complained about attempts that apparently were made to access the Gmail accounts of human rights dissidents.
The dispute has prompted a broader debate about China's controls over the Internet. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has criticized China's censorship, leading China's Foreign Ministry to say her remarks damaged bilateral relations. The U.S. Congress has been holding hearings about Google, China and Web freedom.
In his comments Wednesday, Schmidt denied that Google's dispute was prompted by Washington.
"The Google action was not in any way advanced or coordinated with the U.S. government except post-facto," he said in response to questions. "Google's discussions are with the Chinese government, and they do not involve the U.S. government. The U.S. government's doing its thing unrelated to Google."
Schmidt was speaking at a media summit in the oil-rich city of Abu Dhabi, which is seeking to establish itself as a regional media hub in the rapidly expanding Middle East market.
Google says the Arab world is its fastest-growing region in terms of Internet users. It has launched an online question-and-answer tool it said was designed to boost the amount of Web content available in Arabic. It already offers Arabic-language search pages, and its Blogger publishing platform is popular in the region.
Clinton has also raised concerns about "a spike in threats to the free flow of information" in countries in that region, particularly Tunisia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Several Arab countries, including the UAE, routinely block hundreds of Web sites primarily on political, moral and religious grounds.
Mohammad Gawdat, the Google executive in charge of the region, said that while some Arab governments attempt to block part of the overall Internet, the company itself has not itself been asked to censor content in the region.
Most governments I've worked here with in the Middle East have been more on the reasonable side," he said. "What we will try to do, as much as possible, is follow the needs of users and hopefully find the proper way to provide information."