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Freedom of expression on Internet guaranteed

2010-06-09 06:59

Freedom of expression on Internet guaranteed
Students browse the Internet at the Peking University Library in Beijing, June 2, 2010. [China Daily]

BEIJING - The government is striving to strike a balance between ensuring the free flow of online information and protecting national security and public interest, according to China's first ever white paper on the Internet released on Tuesday.

It "guarantees the citizens' freedom of speech on the Internet as well as the public's right to know, to participate, to be heard, and to oversee (the government) in accordance with the law", the paper says.

The Internet has an "irreplaceable role in accelerating the development of the national economy" and will continue to impact daily work, education and lifestyles, the paper says.

There were 384 million Internet users in the country at the end of 2009, about 29 percent of the population. The government aims to boost that to 45 percent in the next five years by pushing into rural areas where there is a "digital gap".

There are over 1 million BBSs and some 220 million bloggers, and more than two-thirds of netizens frequently place postings to "fully express their opinion", the paper says.

Newly-emerging online services, including blogging, microblogging, video-sharing and social networking websites, are developing rapidly, and provide greater convenience to users, it says.

The paper, however, stresses that the government cannot ignore Internet security.

"Effectively protecting Internet security is an important part of China's Internet administration, and an indispensable requirement for protecting State security and the public interest," the paper says.

The 31-page document does not give examples of what content will be banned, only saying that Chinese law prohibits the spread of "contents subverting State power, undermining national unity, infringing upon national honor and interests, inciting ethnic hatred and secession" as well as such things as pornography and terrorism.

"The white paper will help increase the transparency of China's Internet regulation," said Hu Yanping, head of Data Center of China Internet, an independent Internet data provider.

It also touches for the first time on the idea of "Internet sovereignty", to explain the government's requirement that foreign IT companies operating in the country have to abide by Chinese law.

"Within Chinese territory, the Internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty," the paper says. "The Internet sovereignty of China should be respected and protected."

"The emphasis on the idea of Internet sovereignty shows the government's resolve to develop the Internet industry after the retreat of Google from the mainland," said Lu Benfu, a professor at the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Google moved its search service to Hong Kong in March after it accused Chinese hackers of trying to steal its software coding and of hijacking Gmail accounts of human rights activists, and said it would stop self-censoring its search results in line with Chinese regulations.

No organization or individual can produce, duplicate, announce or disseminate information that may be against the cardinal principles set forth in the Constitution, such as endangering State security, divulging State secrets and jeopardizing national unification among others, according to the white paper.

That may explain why accesses to well-known foreign social networking sites such as Facebook and some other online services are blocked.

In addition, the white paper proposes that the global community create an international body to regulate the Internet and its fundamental resources such as domain names and IP addresses, two key elements constituting the Internet.

"China supports the establishment of an authoritative and just international Internet administration organization under the UN framework through democratic procedures on a worldwide scale," it says.

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