China is reaffirming its policy of restricting access to objectionable content on the Web, outlining the government's agenda of broadening Internet access and usage while maintaining a strict legal framework in a white paper released Tuesday.
In the English translation of the document, the Chinese government provides a lengthy defense of its Internet policies, at once asserting that it promotes free speech while adhering to a set of "laws and regulations [that] clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains contents subverting state power."
China's Internet policies are of no small concern to U.S. IT firms. The country claims that it had 384 million Internet users at the end of 2009, giving it the largest online population in the world.
But that figure represents just 29 percent of China's overall population, well shy of the government's current goal of having at least 45 percent of its people online within the next five years.
However, the appeal of the exploding market is tempered and complicated by the government's imposition of content-filtering rules that block objectionable content on the Web.
Less than three months ago, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) shut down its search engine on the mainland following a dispute over censorship and began redirecting traffic to its Hong Kong site, which operates free of the content restrictions.
Just two days later, Go Daddy, the world's largest domain name registrar, announced at a congressional hearing that it would no longer issue .cn Internet addresses.
Throughout the run-up to Google's announcement, Chinese officials blasted the company in state media reports for politicizing what it described as a commercial dispute, while at the same time reasserting the government's authority to regulate the Internet under Chinese law.
The dispute with Google caught the attention of senior U.S. officials, and occasioned a major speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touting the importance of Internet freedom and calling on Chinese authorities to conduct a full and public investigation of a series of the cyberattacks that had targeted dissident Chinese bloggers and attempted to obtain sensitive software code vaulted in Google's corporate headquarters.
Chinese officials were generally dismissive of Clinton's comments, accusing the United States of hypocrisy for criticizing China while imposing its own set of laws and regulations on the Internet.
The new report describes at length the proliferation of blogs and news sites in China and makes the claim that "Chinese citizens fully enjoy freedom of speech on the Internet."
At the same time, popular social sites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in the mainland with a system of filters often referred to as the "Great Firewall."
The government also imposes self-censorship requirements on tech companies operating in its borders and reiterated those obligations in the report, though it did not detail specific examples of objectionable sites.
"According to these regulations, basic telecommunication business operators and Internet information service providers shall establish Internet security management systems and utilize technical measures to prevent the transmission of all types of illegal information," the report said.