Chinese gov’t widens crackdown on Internet
BEIJING - The Associated Press
Beijing bans material deemed subversive and blocks access to foreign sites run by human rights and Tibet activists. AP photoChina’s new communist leaders are increasing already tight controls on Internet use and electronic publishing, following a spate of embarrassing online reports about official abuses.
The measures suggest China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, and others who took power in November share their predecessors’ anxiety about the Internet’s potential to spread opposition to one-party rule and their insistence on controlling information despite promises of more economic reforms.
This week, China’s legislature took up a measure to require Internet users to register their real names, a move that would curtail the Web’s status as a freewheeling forum to complain, often anonymously, about corruption and official abuses.
That comes amid reports Beijing might be disrupting use of software that allows Web surfers to see sites abroad that are blocked by its extensive Internet filters. At the same time, regulators have proposed rules that would bar foreign companies from distributing books, news, music and other material online in China.
Beijing promotes Internet use for business and education but bans material deemed subversive or obscene and blocks access to foreign websites run by human rights and Tibet activists and some news outlets.
Scholars write petition
In a reminder of the web’s role as a political forum, a group of 70 prominent Chinese scholars and lawyers circulated an online petition this week appealing for free speech, independent courts and for the ruling party to encourage private enterprise.
Communist leaders were slow to enforce the same level of control they impose on movies, books and other media, apparently for fear of hurting fledgling entertainment, shopping and other online businesses. Until recently, web surfers could post comments online or on micro blog services without leaving their names.
That gave ordinary Chinese a unique opportunity to express themselves to a public audience in a society where newspapers, television and other media are state-controlled. The most popular micro blog services say they have more than 300 million users and some users have millions of followers reading their comments.
The Internet also has given the public an unusual opportunity to publicize accusations of official misconduct. A local party official in China’s southwest was fired in November after scenes from a videotape of him having sex with a young woman spread quickly on the Internet.
The government says the latest Internet regulation before the National People’s Congress is aimed at protecting web surfers’ personal information and cracking down on abuses such as junk e-mail. It would require users to report their real names to Internet service and telecom providers.
Proposed rules released this month by the General Administration of Press and Publications would bar Chinese-foreign joint ventures from publishing books, music, movies and other material online in China. Publishers would be required to locate their servers in China and have a Chinese citizen as their local legal representative. That is in line with rules that already bar most foreign access to China’s media market, but the decision to group the restrictions together and publicize them might indicate official attitudes are hardening.
That comes after the party was rattled by foreign news reports about official wealth and misconduct. In June, Bloomberg News reported that Xi’s extended family had amassed assets totaling $376 million, though it said none was traced to Xi. The government has blocked access to Bloomberg’s website since then.
In October, The New York Times reported that Premier Wen Jiabao’s relatives had amassed $2.7 billion since he rose to national office in 2002. Access to the Times’ Chinese-language site has been blocked since then as well.