BEIJING – Links to the WikiLeaks website were blocked within China on Wednesday amid potentially embarrassing claims made in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables posted to the site.
Attempts to access wikileaks.org and cablegate.wikileaks.org were met with a notice saying the connection had been reset. That's the standard response when a website is being blocked by Chinese authorities who exert rigid controls over Internet content.
It wasn't clear when the blocks were imposed, although a vast swath of the Internet is inaccessible behind China's firewall, including social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Human rights and political dissent-themed sites are also routinely banned, although technologically savvy users can easily jump the so-called "Great Firewall" with proxy servers or other alternatives.
WikiLeaks may have been singled out because of some of the assertions made in the leaked cables, including some sent from the U.S. Embassies in Seoul and Beijing focusing on China's ally North Korea.
Those included suggestions that North Korea's communist regime would likely collapse within three years of the death of ruler Kim Jong Il, and that Chinese leaders were prepared to accept South Korea's eventual rule over the entire Korean peninsula.
In one, a Chinese diplomat is quoted describing North Korea as a "spoiled child" for attempting to win U.S. attention with a provocative missile test.
The leaks also claimed that China's Politburo directed a cyber intrusion into Google's computer systems, and expressed concern over attempts by Iranian front companies to obtain Chinese nuclear technology.
China's government has taken a low-key approach to the leaks, with the Foreign Ministry saying it would not comment on specific assertions in the cables.
"China takes note of relevant reports. We hope the U.S. side will properly handle the relevant issue. As for the content of the documents, we do not comment on that," ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday.
The Global Times, a provocative tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece Peoples Daily, labeled the disclosure a "nefarious slander against China" on Wednesday.
It also questioned the U.S. government's perceived inability to block the posting of the leaks, saying it raised questions as to whether it had reached some form of tacit understanding with WikiLeaks.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University, said Beijing shared Washington's concern about the release of sensitive diplomatic communications. But he said the WikiLeaks' blocking was motivated more by the need to stifle further rumor mongering, rather than suppressing specific revelations.
"The website is blocked because the information is both unprovable and sensitive," Shi said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the documents. Officials around the world have said the disclosure jeopardizes national security, diplomats, intelligence assets and relationships between foreign governments.
The massive leaks were "embarrassing" and "awkward," but the consequences for American foreign policy should be limited, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.