BY PETER SIMPSON – China on Thursday rejected claims by Google that China-based hackers have spied on email accounts owned by American politicians and Chinese dissidents.

The allegations are just the latest confrontation between the web search giant and the government of a country with the most Internet users in the world.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called it unacceptable for Google to blame China for trying to steal the email account passwords of senior U.S. government officials, Chinese activists and journalists.

The allegations that the Chinese government is supporting hacking are baseless, said Hong, and stem from what he says are ulterior motives. He added the Chinese government highly values Internet safety and monitors the Internet.

China tightly controls the Internet in what it says is an attempt to kept harmful material such as pornography off the web. But many human rights groups and governments say the real reason is censor pro-democracy activists and dissents against the ruling Communist Party.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong said the Chinese government resolutely opposes what he described as illegal activity on the Internet, including hacking, and will counter this according to the law.

Google claims it traced the hackers to Jinan, the capital of China’s eastern Shandong province, where the People’s Liberation Army has a so-called technical reconnaissance bureau and a technical college.

Last year U.S. investigators looking into similar hacking attacks on Google said they traced them to the same region.

The FBI says it was working with Google following the latest alleged attack and Washington also announced it was investigating Google’s claims.

The relationship between Google and Beijing has been tense since the company partially pulled out of China in early 2010 because of censorship issues and hacking.

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