China has indicated that censorship of the Internet will continue for Chinese web users, the world’s largest online population, to protect state security.
A 31-page official paper on the Internet released on Tuesday, asked critics abroad to respect China’s Internet sovereignty. Internet security is an ‘indispensable requirement’ for protecting state security and the public interest, it said.
The document did not mention the shutdown of Google’s China search engine earlier this year, after the Internet major refused to continue censoring free speech on the mainland. The document claimed that Chinese citizens enjoy free speech. The paper said the government aims to increase Internet access from the current 29 per cent of its population to 45 per cent in five years.
It will ‘constantly adjust relevant policies’ to administer the Internet and create a ‘healthy and harmonious Internet environment’.
China’s sophisticated Internet policing network to block information, known as the Great Firewall, has tightened controls over the last two years. Video site YouTube was shutdown after the Tibet riots of March 2008.
Facebook and Twitter were blocked after ethnic unrest in northwest Xinjiang last July. Residents of Xinjiang lived with limited Internet access for 10 months until it was restored last month.
Internet service providers are expected to block ‘illegal’ information online, which could be anything from an extensive list including subverting state power, undermining national unity, national honour and interests, inciting ethnic hatred, secession and harming social stability.
The latest statistics put the number of Chinese netizens at 384 million, a third of whom are minors. The online population has expanded 618 times since 1997 with an annual increase of nearly 32 million users.
Eighty per cent of China’s web users rely on the Internet for news, and government censors monitor the 220 million bloggers for criticism of government policies and politically sensitive information that could spark mass protests.