China said to be blocking websites

The Chinese government has quietly begun preventing access again to Web sites that it had stopped blocking during the Olympic Games in Beijing in August, Internet experts said Tuesday.

Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said at his twice-weekly news conference on Tuesday in Beijing that the Chinese government had a right to censor Web sites that violated the country's laws. He added that "some Web sites," which he did not identify, had violated China's law against secession by suggesting that there were two Chinas--a reference to the Beijing government's longstanding position that mainland China and Taiwan form a single China.

"I hope that the Web sites in question will be able to self-regulate, and not do things that will violate Chinese law, and for the sake of both sides, develop conditions for Web site cooperation," Liu said, according to a transcript posted on the Foreign Ministry's Web site.

Rebecca MacKinnon, a specialist in Internet issues at Hong Kong University, said that the Chinese authorities had recently resumed blocking access to her blog from mainland computers. "It does appear that in the last week a lot of things got reblocked that were unblocked during the Olympics," she said, adding, "I have not written about the two Chinas issue arguably in the past year; it is not what I focus on."

The government's action comes as the Chinese economy has slowed sharply this fall. Chinese leaders have begun cautioning about risks to social stability from high unemployment. Chinese officials have followed a pattern over the years of censoring the Internet more tightly at times of economic or political stress.

Asiaweek, a Hong Kong-based publication, reported this week that the Chinese-language version of its Web site, as well as those of the BBC, Voice of America and Ming Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper, had been blocked since early December.

On its Web site, the BBC reported that a number of foreign sites had been blocked and said it "expressed disappointment at the apparent reinstatement of the ban" since the Olympics. But at the news conference, Liu defended China's monitoring of the Internet by saying that other countries also restricted access to some Web sites.

The Chinese government "needs to do the required management of Web sites based on the law, just as what other countries are doing," he said. In recent days, Britain and Australia have moved to limit distribution of child pornography over the Internet. Germany requires that search engines not link to sites linked to Nazi activity.

But MacKinnon noted that in contrast to other countries the Chinese government defined crime very broadly, imposed censorship with little if any explanation and provided no process for operators of blocked Web sites to appeal censorship decisions. She added that even when entire Web sites were not blocked, the Chinese government still sometimes limited certain keyword searches.

No responsibility can be taken for the content of external Internet sites.

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