Beijing Defends Right To Censor Internet

The Chinese government has defended its “Great Firewall Of China” following fresh American pressure

China has responded to American pressure to explain online censorship of US firms, by defending its right to censor the Internet.

The Chinese government routinely blocks citizens from viewing search terms and websites it has deemed subversive under the Golden Shield Project or Great Firewall.

Chinese Censorship

In July, a Chinese think tank (the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) revealed that the number of websites in China had nearly halved since 2009. It said there had been 41 percent drop to 1.91 million websites on the Chinese mainland between the end of 2009 and the end of 2010.

Many blame the Chinese government censorship campaigns.

For example in January the Chinese government boasted that its “Great Firewall” had deleted 350 million pieces of harmful information as part of its 2010 campaign to clean up the web by shutting what it judged to be harmful sites.

Banned websites in China include Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. China also added Skype on its list of blocked services  in December.

US Pressure

Yet despite these draconian actions, the Chinese government has on Thursday defended its right to censor the Internet. It said it was necessary to “safeguard the public”.

The defence comes after the US government pressed the Chinese authorities over why so many US companies are blocked from providing services via the Internet. This pressure came to light in a letter from Michael Punke, the US Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, which was addressed to his Chinese counterpart. The letter was seen by Reuters.

Punke reportedly wrote that some companies based outside China had faced “challenges offering their services to Chinese customers” when their websites were blocked by China’s “national firewall.”

Chinese Defence

Reuters meanwhile quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu as saying that China had actively encouraged the development of the Internet and protected freedom of speech online.

“At the same time, in terms of China’s lawful Internet management, its purpose is to maintain a good Internet environment and to safeguard public interest,” Jiang told reporters. “These are in line with internationally accepted practices.”

“We are willing to work with countries and communicate with them on the development of the Internet and to work together to promote the sound development of the Internet,” she said. “But we do not accept using the excuse of ‘Internet freedom’ to interfere in other countries’ internal practices.”

She added that foreign companies were welcome to do business in the country.

China and The Internet

China has more than 450 million Internet users, an increase of 20.3 percent since 2009. But the country has a population of 1.3 billion, so there is plenty of room for growth.

The country implemented new regulations in 2010 regarding mobile phone users and website operators, ostensibly to prevent harmful online content from reaching children.

But the Chinese are also regarded as being behind many hacking attacks, especially against American defence contractors. Unknown attackers have also breached Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and defence contractor Lockheed Martin this spring.

But Chinese denials of being involved in cyber attacks began to ring a little hollow in August, after video footage showed Chinese military systems hacking a US target. F-Secure chief research officer Mikko Hyppönen spotted the video footage of the alleged hack during a Chinese military TV documentary. The offending video was quickly altered.

Google of course is the most famous American company that has clashed with the Chinese government. It partly withdrew from China after it claimed that the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists had being hacked in early 2010, with the knowledge of Chinese authorities.

The Chinese government consistently denied it was behind the attack, and told Google that it should follow the law when Google threatened to stop censoring Chinese search results.

The row quickly escalated into the political arena, and a speech by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in 2010, in which she called for greater Internet freedom drew an angry response from the Chinese government.