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The Chinese authorities appear to have reverted to their pre-Olympic position of denying access to "sensitive" websites - including the BBC's Chinese language tentacle.

The Corporation reports that this and other sites - including the Voice of America in Chinese plus "some Hong Kong and Taiwan sites" - are now "banned". A foreign ministry spokesman "refused to confirm that the government was behind the censorship", but did note that "some websites which supported Taiwanese independence violated Chinese law".

China pledged that during the Olympics, foreign journalists would have free access to the internet - an apparent liberalisation of its previously hard line on suspect websites. However, certain areas remained strictly off-limits, including Amnesty International's website, as well as material relating to the banned spiritual group Falun Gong and Tibetan independence.

Liu Binjie, the head of China's Ministry of Press and Publications, responded to criticism of this back-track with: "We regard the 12 May earthquake* and the Olympic Games press coverage as an important test of the media operation system reforms and will explore building a more open and transparent media system after the Games."

However, it now appears this "transparent media system" doesn't apply to citizens, with the censor once again eager to control access to potentially troublesome news sources.

The BBC notes that China faces "a tough year ahead" amid the economic downturn and rising unemployment. Disgruntled locals tempted to indulge in the expected rise in social unrest will face "more censorship and increased internal security". ®

Bootnote

*The Chinese authorities were "praised for their stance on reporting the 12 May Sichuan earthquake, following their decision back in January 2007 to loosen controls over foreigners reporting in the country", as we put it back in July.

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