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China defends internet censorship

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Google logo in Beijing on 20 January 2010
Google pulled out of mainland China in March over censorship rules

China has defended its right to censor the internet in a document laying out the government's attitude towards the web.

It says the country has the right to govern the internet according to its own rules inside its borders.

The white paper also reveals just how fast the internet has developed in China in the 16 years since it was first connected.

By the end of last year the country had 384m internet users.

'Freedom of speech'

The white paper, released on Tuesday, called the internet "a crystallisation of human wisdom".

But in the document the government lays out some of the reasons why its citizens cannot get access to all of that wisdom.

It says it wants to curb the harmful effects of illegal information on state security, public interests and children.

"Laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains content subverting state power, undermining national unity [or] infringing upon national honour and interests," it says.

Websites, blogs and information deemed sensitive by the Chinese government is routinely blocked using a range of technological tools, dubbed the Great Firewall of China.

The country's state secrets law has just been amended in a way that makes internet and telecommunications firms now responsible for helping the government police the web.

Despite that, China still maintains that its people have unfettered access to the internet. "Chinese citizens fully enjoy freedom of speech on the internet," says the white paper.

In another section, China reaffirms its determination to govern the internet within its borders according to its own rules.

"Within Chinese territory the internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty. The internet sovereignty of China should be respected and protected," it says.

It adds that foreign individuals and firms can use the internet in China, but they must abide by the country's laws.

Google recently pulled out of mainland China, saying it was no longer willing to accept government censorship. Its Chinese-language services are now based in Hong Kong.

The document also reveals just how fast the internet is developing in China. The government hopes that nearly half the population will have access to the internet within five years.

That figure is nearly 30% at the moment.



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