China tight­en­ing con­trols on Web

New lead­ers pro­pose mak­ing peo­ple use real names on­line.

Austin American-Statesman - - NEWS - Byjoe Mcdon­ald

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.

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