China Moves to Keep 'Net Users in Line

The Chinese government has rung in the new year by stepping up measures to dissuade Internet users from engaging in illegal online activities. A new round of Internet regulations, formally approved by the State Council on Dec. 11, 1997, was outlined with immediate effect in a Dec. 30, 1997 announcement by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS).

The Chinese government has rung in the new year by stepping up measures to dissuade Internet users from engaging in illegal online activities.

A new round of Internet regulations, formally approved by the State Council on Dec. 11, 1997, was outlined with immediate effect in a Dec. 30, 1997 announcement by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS).

The State Council and the MPS, rather than the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), are presently responsible for most security-related issues concerning the Internet.

The latest regulations identify specific Internet-related activities that China intends to clamp down on, including pornography, the leaking of State secrets, advocating racial hatred among China's minorities, and political subversion. The regulations also target activities aimed at splitting the country, which observers perceive as a thinly-veiled reference to separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang.

In addition, the regulations call for unspecified criminal penalties and fines of up to 15,000 renminbi (US$1,815) for users who violate the new controls.

Ross Warner, an analyst at Beijing-based China Research Corp., downplayed the impact of the new regulations on Chinese Internet users. “[The MSP] only wants to keep the potential downsides of the Internet fresh in people's minds,” he said.

“I don't think it will have any major impact at all. I think it's just a way for them to say, ‘Hey, the Internet is great, but there are some downsides, like security,’” Warner said. “It is just their way of saying that there is no green light, as far as anything goes, on the Internet.”

Warner's assessment of the development was consistent with the results of a small and informal sample of individual Internet users in Beijing and Shanghai last week. Most of the users who spoke with Computerworld Hong Kong were unaware that new regulations had been put into effect.

One Beijing Internet user, a 24-year old advertising executive, said he felt that the latest round of regulations was a logical step for the government to take. “[These regulations] are needed by China,” he said.

Regardless of the impact that the new regulations will have on ‘Net access in China, Hong Kong users will not be affected.

According to a senior official at the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA), the new Chinese Internet regulations will not be extended to include users in Hong Kong.

“The regulations are not applicable to the Hong Kong SAR [Special Administrative Region],” said M.H. Au, assistant director responsible for regulatory affairs at OFTA. “They are applicable to the rest of China.”

The new Chinese regulations would have no impact on the regulation of the Internet in Hong Kong, Au said. “This is one country, two systems.”

“Any server that is based in Hong Kong or any injection of content into the Internet in Hong Kong… the activity will have to comply with Hong Kong law. The Hong Kong control, the Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, would apply,” he said.

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