China tightening controls on Web
New leaders propose making people use real names online.
BEIJING — China’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 oppo- sition to one-party rule and their insistence on controlling information despite promises of more economic reforms.
“They are still very paranoid about the potentially destabilizing effect of the Internet,” said Willy Lam, a politics specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “They are on the point of losing a monopoly on information, but they still are very eager to control the dissemination of views.”
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. The legislature scheduled a news conference Friday to discuss the measure, suggesting it was expected to be approved.
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. Controls were tightened after social media played a role in protests that brought down governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
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.
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 run.
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 said 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 email.
The main ruling party newspaper, People’s Daily, has called in recent weeks for tighter Internet controls, saying rumors spread online have harmed the public. In one case, it said stories about a chemical plant explosion resulted in the deaths of four people in a car accident as they fled.