China Defends Censorship, Yet Hails Internet, Twitter

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China on Tuesday released an official white paper on the country’s internet industry. It reviews the history of China’s Internet, from its first connection in 1994, a single 64-kilobit line in Beijing’s Zhongguancun district, to the present day, when China boasts more internet users than any other country.

At the end of 2009, the number of Chinese Internet users reached 384 million, or 28.9 percent of the population, a higher penetration rate than the world average, the paper notes. The paper states that China aims to raise the Internet penetration rate to 45 percent of the population within five years.

“China still needs to make arduous efforts to bridge the ‘digital gap’ between different regions and between the urban and rural areas,” the report states. At the end of 2009, 40 percent of residents on China’s wealthier east coast had access to the Internet, as compared to 21.5 percent in rural areas, it says.

The paper contains an entire section on “guaranteeing citizen’s freedom of speech on the Internet.” But it adds all the usual caveats that leave ample room for the government’s extensive censorship: “While exercising such freedom and rights, citizens are not allowed to infringe upon state, social and collective interests or the legitimate freedom and rights and other citizens.”

Ironically, the English-language version of the paper cites Twitter, the social networking service blocked by Beijing, as a positive development for China’s Internet and evidence of Internet freedom. “The newly-emerging online services, including blog, Twitter, video-sharing and social networking websites, are developing rapidly in China, and provide greater convenience for Chinese citizens to communicate online.”

The shout-out to Twitter may be a translation error. The Chinese version of the paper refers to “micro-blogging” in general, not Twitter specifically. Many Twitter-like applications, such as Sina Corp.’s “weibo” service, operate in China. But like any Chinese site, it is subject to censorship, and also vigorously self-censored by its operators to avoid attracting the ire of regulators.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.