* YouTube says has been blocked in China
* China says is unafraid of Internet (Adds YouTube response)
BEIJING, March 24 (Reuters) - China is not afraid of the Internet, its Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, even as access to the popular video sharing site YouTube was apparently blocked.
YouTube, owned by search giant Google Inc (GOOG.O), has been unavailable for users in China, which filters the Internet for content critical of the Communist Party, since late on Monday.
“Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the Internet. In fact it is just the opposite,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.
He said he did not know about YouTube being blocked.
A Google spokesman confirmed that access to the video site has been blocked in China over the past 24 hours.
“YouTube is currently blocked in China. We don’t know the reason for the blockage, but are working as quickly as possible to restore access to our users in China,” said spokesman Scott Rubin.
Rubin would not comment on whether YouTube has contacted the Chinese authorities to confirm it has officially been blocked or if it is a technical problem.
Both Google and YouTube have previously been blocked in China for brief periods, according to the company. In the past Chinese authorities have blocked specific videos.
Access to YouTube had been spotty earlier in March, the one-year anniversary of widespread protests by Tibetans against Chinese rule.
Qin said China’s 300 million Internet users and 100 million blogs showed “China’s Internet is open enough, but also needs to be regulated by law in order to prevent the spread of harmful information and for national security.”
An Internet crackdown that began in January has closed hundreds of Chinese sites, including a popular blog hosting site and several sites popular with Tibetans.
It has been described by analysts as another step in the Party’s battle to stifle dissent in a year of sensitive anniversaries, including the 20th anniversary of the government’s bloody crackdown on the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
YouTube, which has country-specific sites in 23 countries, has in the past been blocked in certain countries, including Turkey and Thailand in disputes over specific videos. (Reporting by Lucy Hornby in Beijing, additional reporting by Yinka Adegoke; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andre Grenon)