Google's chief executive assured lawmakers Tuesday the company has "no plans" to return to China, despite reports that the tech giant intends to build a censored search engine in the country.
"Right now, we have no plans to launch search in China," Sundar Pichai told the House Judiciary Committee, adding that "access to information is an important human right."
Pichai did not altogether rule out future dealings with Beijing and told the committee he would inform Congress about any developments concerning re-entry into the Chinese market.
His comments came in response to concerns raised by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) that Google would aid the Chinese Communist Party in repressing citizens "seeking a lifeline of democracy and freedom."
Pichai in October acknowledged a company proposal to develop a censored search app for China, but said it was still in the "very early" stages. The Intercept was the first to reveal the plans, reporting in August the company was working on a censored search engine to comply with Beijing's internet restrictions.
Internal documents detailed a prototype of the plan, code-named "Project Dragonfly," which blacklisted specific search terms about human rights, religion, and protest, according to the Intercept. Lawmakers, human rights groups, and hundreds of Google employees have also raised concerns that the app would enable the Chinese government to surveil citizens and political opponents.
Both Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday criticized the plans, with GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) saying it "raises a troubling possibility that Google is being used to strengthen China's system of surveillance, repression, and control."
Pichai later defended a potential return to Beijing as a move that would have a "positive impact" on Chinese citizens seeking greater access to information. He said the company has not engaged in discussions with Chinese officials regarding the launch of search engine.
Google pulled services from China in 2010 amid increased concerns about censorship and cyberattacks, abandoning a market comprised of 772 million internet users. The move garnered bipartisan praise from Congress as a win for human rights.