In a speech commemorating a local human rights activist, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian accused Yahoo and Google of allowing the prospect of corporate profits to lure them into compromising free speech in China.

"I again call on China's Communist government and on multinationals that have sacrificed freedom of speech for corporate profits, including well known companies such as Yahoo and Google, to respect democracy and freedom, because it is the correct way to ensure continuous future development," Chen said in the speech last Friday.

Taiwan's president used the 17th annual commemorative ceremony for human rights activist Cheng Nan-jung as a platform for his speech, arguing that countries should not compromise free speech or freedom of the press for any reason.

Cheng, former publisher of a weekly magazine dedicated to protesting government suppression of press freedoms in Taiwan, set himself on fire in 1989 during an attempt by police to arrest him.

Since the incident, Taiwan has developed one of the most vibrant democracies in Asia, with full press and speech freedoms. The island enjoyed its third free presidential election in 2004, with the incumbent, Chen, winning his second term in office.

Neither Google nor Yahoo immediately answered a request for comment about the speech.

Google launched a censored version of its search engine in China in January. It argued that it was better if it offered users there a compromised version of its search service rather than none at all. The company came under fire in the US and elsewhere for the move.

Censors and strong firewalls in China slow the performance of overseas internet sites. Only by locating servers in China can a company such as Google speed up its site, but putting servers in the country also gives Beijing control over how the company runs its business.

Yahoo has faced criticism for turning emails over to Chinese police that put a journalist in jail for 10 years.

China has long held the hope that someday Taiwan might become part of its territory despite wide political differences. China is controlled by the Communist Party, and its citizens enjoy few personal freedoms. Taiwan's constitution is modelled on that of the US, which grants far-reaching rights to citizens.

China has offered to allow Taiwan to continue to operate under its own political system if it would become part of China. Taiwan has cited its various political freedoms, and the lack thereof in China, as its main reason for refusing to be part of such an arrangement.

China and Taiwan split in 1949 after a civil war. Since then, China has maintained a threat to attack the island if it declares independence.