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China sidesteps Great Firewall with web roadmap

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The Chinese government has issued a white paper laying out current, and future, internet policy - and you might not recognise its view of internet use in that country.

There is little talk of the Great Firewall and much of social responsibility and the benefits internet access can bring to citizens, and to government. Although the paper explicitly guarantees freedom of speech online, it is freedom with limits.

The paper claims: "Chinese citizens fully enjoy freedom of speech on the Internet. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China confers on Chinese citizens the right to free speech. With their right to freedom of speech on the Internet protected by the law, they can voice their opinions in various ways on the Internet.

"Vigorous online ideas exchange is a major characteristic of China's Internet development, and the huge quantity of BBS posts and blog articles is far beyond that of any other country."

But the limits to this freedom would cover almost everything. The paper warns: "Citizens are not allowed to infringe upon state, social and collective interests or the legitimate freedom and rights of other citizens. No organization or individual may utilize telecommunication networks to engage in activities that jeopardize state security, the public interest or the legitimate rights and interests of other people."

And that's not all. There are separate laws against disseminating vulgar or pornographic material, anything that may subvert state power, undermine national unity, infringe upon national honour, advocating heresy and spreading information that infringes upon the legitimate rights and interests of others. Gambling, propagating heretical or superstitious ideas, spreading rumours and disrupting social order are also banned.

China has over a million bulletin boards and 220 million bloggers - over 80 per cent of websites offer some kind of bulletin board or reader comment system. Every day some three million messages are posted on such boards or blogs. The Chinese government believes this online debate is far in advance of any other country.

Far from being at the forefront of using the internet for spying on its citizens the paper assures us that the People's Republic is a protector of online privacy.

The document says: "The protection of online privacy is closely connected with people's sense of security and confidence in the Internet. The Chinese Government proactively promotes the improvement of relevant legislation... in order to steadily enhance online privacy protection systems."

The white paper notes that a third of China's 384 million netizens are minors, and that protecting them remains a priority. Laws to protect them include a ban on "overindulging on the Internet" and promotes the "Mothers' Education Programme" to further protect kids.

The paper also notes that there are big regional differences. Eastern China has 40 per cent of its population online versus just 21.5 per cent in the west of the country. The People's Republic claims to have spent 4.3 trillion yuan on its network between 1997 and 2009.

This includes 8.627 million miles of fibre-optic network. China's 3G network covers the whole country. Of all internet users in China - 346 million use broadband and 233 million use mobile phones to access the net.

The full paper is available from here. ®

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