China Still Has Growing Pains With Internet’s Openness

Despite an apparent desire to see the Chinese Internet industry expand, the Chinese government is still having difficulty with the free flow of information on the Web.

Authorities in China recently cracked down on Web based dissent in two well-known cases.

In Nanjing, a university student set up a Web page that protested against government controlled China Telecom’s monopoly over the country’s Internet industry and the high cost of Internet usage. Warnings from government representatives forced him to close down the site.

In April, a software company owner in Shanghai was arrested for giving the e-mail addresses of 30,000 Chinese users to an external pro-democracy Web site. Last week, the Shanghai Courts postponed his sedition trial for undisclosed reasons.

Some foreign observers contend that this type of government coercion will stifle the growth of the Internet in China.

However, China’s business elite contends that such incidents are minor obstacles and that government is only concerned with preserving culture and values.

“We haven’t experienced any problems,” said Charles Zhang, the CEO of Beijing based SOHOO, the most trafficked Chinese language portal. “China is so big that you can’t generalize.”

“The government is very supportive of the Internet industry,” said Peter Yip, vice chairman of the government backed China Internet Corp. “The biggest issue in China is localized Chinese content that has to reflect our culture, heritage and values.”

On the issue of Internet usage costs, Zhang commented, “Access in some other provinces is quite cheap because they are at a different stage of development. In Guangdong, there is unlimited access for a few 100 RMB per month.”

Zhang admitted that Beijing was more expensive with 75 hours of usage for 300 RMB per month and, if exceeded, 30 RMB per hour.

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