China flexes legal muscle to block foreign websites

March 30, 2016 08:29
President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening ceremony of the World Internet Conference last year. China is considering rules that would prohibit Internet-service providers from allowing access to sites with domains registered outside the country. Photo:

China is planning further controls on the internet by widening its growing legal framework that would force service providers to cut off access to foreign websites.

The proposal prohibits internet access to websites whose domains are registered outside China, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Violators would face fines of up to 30,000 yuan (US$4,621) and public notices exposing their failure to obey.

The new guidelines are part of a set of draft revisions to Chinese regulations on the management of Internet domain names, posted for public comment on a government website.

If fully implemented, the regulations would effectively wall off the world’s most populous country from vast swaths of the internet.

Other, similar rules have been weakly enforced in the past but with Chinese President Xi Jinping dramatically tightening political controls, it is unclear how meaningful the changes would be, analysts said.

“They can always backtrack since it’s vague and enforcement is sometimes lax, but given the current climate, it seems to be in line with the increasing crackdown on press and internet freedom,” said Lokman Tsui, an expert in media and technology policy at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology MIIT), which issued the draft rules, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The proposed revisions to domain-name regulations are the latest in a series of recently adopted or suggested rule changes that provide legal justification for Beijing’s intensifying campaign to fortify the country’s internet against what the Communist Party sees as unwanted foreign influences.

In January, the Cyberspace Administration of China issued draft rules requiring news services to remove any content that failed to “embrace the core values of socialism and safeguard national and public interests.”

The next month, MIIT and the country’s publications regulator jointly issued new regulations banning companies with foreign ownership of any kind from engaging in online publishing.

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