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Not a country renowned for freedom of speech, China has nevertheless outdone itself with a new set of Net censorship laws that would make Draco proud.

Not only are Western news portals including the BBC, CNN and Yahoo! to be blocked, but anyone wishing to post news from anyone other that state-owned media outlets will have to obtain special permission from the government. Any articles published will also have to state the source of the information under law.

According to new rules published in government mouthpiece the People's Daily newspaper, chatrooms will be responsible for making sure no messages deemed illegal are posted. By illegal, the Chinese government means anything that goes against the constitution, threatens state security or harms China's honour and interests. Now this sort of wording wouldn't really worry journalists living in the West, but we're talking China and so you can be sure that anything that doesn't extol China's virtues would be deemed harmful to its honour. We dread to think what the punishment for "breaking" this law will be.

This sorry state of affairs has been sparked by a growing number of postings critical of the government to Chinese newsgroups, which have been increasingly popular as China's online population rapidly expands and people have found protective anonymity. Despite such horrific quenching of critical voices such as Tiannamen Square, the government and its methods of control have failed to remove the anger and rebelliousness of its young. China will find it will have to pass more and more such draconian laws. And this will have a knock-on effect on international investment. There seem to be little point in foreign media companies setting up in China with these new laws; existing companies may well have to shut down.

It will be interesting to see if the Chinese population can bypass the new legislation and legal system by using modern technology in a similar way that people here in the West have sent lawyers and governments running for cover. ®

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