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Asia & Pacific

China says government to be more open but strict control over web will remain


January 9, 2012: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (2nd L) walks with Chinese President Hu Jintao (L) as they inspect a guard of honor during an official welcoming ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Reuters)

China will be more open about the often secretive workings of the government and ruling Communist Party in the coming year, although strict controls over the Internet would remain in place, a senior propaganda official said Wednesday.

Officials will expand the use of government spokespeople, boost the overseas reach of state media, and further promote the use of microblogs to interact with the public, Wang Chen told reporters.

"In this new year, we will adopt an even more open attitude and even more forceful policies," Wang said.

Chinese government departments have traditionally been tightlipped, a result of authoritarian one-party rule in which officials had little accountability to the public and policies were drafted in high-level meetings without input from ordinary citizens.

However, amid rising incomes and increased demand for transparency and efficiency, departments over the past decade have appointed spokesmen to deal with media and the general public, and released an increasing flow of information.

Wang said news and information about government's day-to-day activities as well as emergency responses would be expanded and systematized. Spokesmen would receive intensified training with an emphasis on obtaining first-hand information rather than simply passing on information from other departments, he said.

Much of that public interaction has been driven by the Internet, and government departments at all levels now have not only websites but also Twitter-like microblogs on which to post breaking news. China has more people online than any other country -- 513 million -- nearly 360 million of whom primarily access the web over their cell phones and almost half of whom use microblogs.

The explosive growth of such services has underscored government efforts to rigorously police the Internet for content promoting fraud, gambling, pornography or content considered politically sensitive information.

China also blocks major social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter out of fear they could be used to spread subversive content, or to organize public demonstrations such as those that spread last spring across the Arab world.

Webmasters, pro-democracy activists, and journalists who have posted sensitive information on the Internet have been harassed, detained, and in some cases imprisoned.

Wang said the government would compel those opening new microblog accounts in Beijing and other major cities to use their real names and other information. The requirement would later be expanded to cover those with existing accounts, he said.

Free speech advocates have called that an attempt to further curtail online discussions. Wang said it was necessary to prevent fraud, identity theft and the spread of rumors or other "harmful information."

"Our only purpose is to ensure the rapid, healthy expansion of the Chinese Internet," he said.