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Date: Tue, 23 Dec 1997 09:27:04 -0500 (EST)
Message-Id: <199712231427.JAA24273@roy.nexus-is.qc.ca>
From: Carole Samdup <csichrdd@web.net>
To: apecforum-l@netserver.web.net
Subject: apec-L: Internet Access in China
Sender: owner-apecforum-l@list.web.net

Controls on Internet Access Being Abandoned

China News Digest, 15 December 1997

[CND, 12/15/97] The South China Morning Post reports that despite previous efforts by the government to limit domestic access to the internet, more and more Chinese people can obtain full worldwide internet access, and the number of individual and commercial subscribers in China is mushrooming. Internet subscriptions have nearly doubled or grown even beyond that during 1997, to an estimated 250,000 according to the latest figures by the paper, and at 600,000 by a recent Xinhua News Agency's report. Internet service providers (ISPs) and Internet Cafes--establishments offering access to networked computers to the public for a fee--are becoming popular in many of the largest cities.

The government, which had hitherto been wary of the Internet's potential for exposing its users to spiritual pollution, now seems to fear falling behind in Internet technology and literacy levels even more, and is dropping many of its tries at preventing Chinese users from accessing previously forbidden materials.

The government began developing a regulatory and technological control structure once access to the Internet started appearing outside academic institutions in 1995. This culminated in broadly-based laws enacted in February 1996 that were backed by secured backbone connections provided only by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. Scanning software would alert officials were a user to see certain sets of words; furthermore, the Ministry would block certain news, political, and pornographic sites; and it required that users register with the Public Security Bureau. ISPs were held directly responsible for what their users could see.

These methods are losing effectiveness. Now it is possible to read uncensored reports from such news agencies as Reuters and CNN. Even many sites offering overt access to pornography are getting through the government's screens. The London-based Tibet Information Network server has been seen on some ISPs, even including reports alleging abuses by Chinese authorities in Tibet and chronicling international efforts to promote that Tibet's independence. The China News Digest, the service providing the publication you are reading now, has long been banned in China, but is now reportedly accessible through an ISP in Shanghai. Internet access cards sold for use at Internet Cafes, similar to telephone calling cards, allow users to browse anonymously.

Much of the relaxation of Internet controls may stem from pragmatism. The government seems reluctant to invest the money, computers, and technically- proficient labor necessary so that the control infrastructure will grow proportionately with the growth of subscribers. Also, like in many other countries, the authorities may have learned that effectively controlling Internet content is virtually impossible, as nearly anything the government may put in place is too easily bypassed by users and ISPs.

Many government agencies are even getting into the act themselves, with some establishing their own Internet sites, and one even trying to implement a system to allow electronic commerce via the Internet. A group of Hong Kong investors are reportedly teaming with Xinhua, the official state news agency, to create the China Wide Web, a Chinese-language Internet service offering access to business information and to approved Web sites, with full access as an option.

Internet access remains very expensive in China, with one ISP reportedly asking for 50,000 Yuan (just over US$6,000) up front to set up an account. Internet access is not obtainable by many poorer persons and in remote regions of China. However, marketers are finding that demand for full, uncensored Internet access remains high in China and is growing rapidly.

(Phil Stephens, Guochen WAN)