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Microsoft Shuts Down Chinese Blog

Microsoft Corp. has shut down the Internet journal of a Chinese blogger that discussed politically sensitive issues including a recent strike at a Beijing newspaper.

The action came amid criticism by free-speech activists of foreign technology companies that help the communist government enforce censorship or silence dissent in order to be allowed into China's market.

Microsoft's China-based Web log-hosting service shut down the blog at the Chinese government's request, said Brooke Richardson, group product manager with Microsoft's MSN online division at the company headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

Though Beijing has supported Internet use for education and business, it fiercely polices content. Filters block objectionable foreign Web sites and regulations ban subversive and pornographic content and require service providers to enforce censorship rules.

"When we operate in markets around the world we have to ensure that our service complies with global laws as well as local laws and norms," Richardson said.

Richardson said the blog was shut down on Dec. 30 or 31, but wouldn't give any other details about the reason.

But the blog, written under the pen name An Ti by Zhao Jing, who works for the Beijing bureau of The New York Times as a research assistant, touched on sensitive topics such as China's relations with Taiwan. Last week, he used the blog to crusade on behalf of a Beijing newspaper.

Reporters at the Beijing News, a daily known for its aggressive reporting, staged an informal one-day strike after their chief editor was removed from his post. The editor's removal and the strike attracted comments on Chinese online bulletin boards, which censors then erased.

Online bulletin boards and Web logs have given millions of Chinese an opportunity to express opinions in a public setting in a system where all media are government-controlled.

But service providers are required to monitor Web logs and bulletin boards, erase banned content and report offenders.

Foreign companies have adopted Chinese standards, saying they must obey local laws.

Microsoft's Web log service bars use of terms such as "democracy" and "human rights." On the China-based portal of search engine Google, a search for material on the Dalai Lama, Taiwan and other sensitive topics returns a message saying "site cannot be found."

Last year, Web portal Yahoo! was the target of criticism when it was disclosed that the company provided information that was used to convict a Chinese reporter on charges of revealing state secrets.

Reporter Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison based on an e-mail that he had sent abroad with details of a memo read out at his newspaper about media controls.

In September, a Chinese journalist was sentenced to seven years in prison on subversion charges after writing articles that appeared on Web sites abroad that are blocked in China.

China also is in the midst of a crackdown on online smut. The police ministry said last month that it had shut down 598 Web sites with sexually explicit content and arrested 25 people.

David Wolf, a Beijing-based technology consultant, said that while Microsoft might be hurt abroad by controversy over its actions in China, Chinese Internet services routinely exercise similar censorship.

"They simply do it as a matter of course," said Wolf, managing director of Wolf Group Asia. "When you're looking around China, there is nothing that Microsoft and Yahoo have to do that is any different from what Chinese companies already are doing."