The co-founder of Google has admitted that the search engine compromised its principles by accommodating Chinese censorship demands, and said that the company could pull out of the country.

Sergey Brin told reporters in Washington that Google was trying to improve its censored Chinese search engine, but would consider closing it down if restrictions remained in place.

And he insisted that the company only submitted itself to censorship after Beijing threatened to close it down.

"We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference," Mr Brin said.

He added: "It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, `Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship, and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path.

Sergey Brin"It’s not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.

"Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense."

In January the search engine launched Google.cn, a Chinese version of its website which complies with state censorship rules.

Its old site was subject to blocks from powerful government computers known as "the great firewall of China", but was not self-censored.

Reporters Without Borders, the media watchdog, described the launch of Google.cn as a "black day" for freedom of expression.

Such criticism was unfair, according to Mr Brin, who said that Google’s rivals had accommodated the same Chinese demands without a media furore.

Mr Brin was in Washington to ask US senators to approve a plan that would prevent telephone and cable companies from collecting premium fees from companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! for faster delivery of their services.