BEIJING (Reuters) - China will not ease state control over what can be said online and will brook no foreign criticism of its rules, according to a government white paper released on Tuesday after months of wrangling about freedoms for Web users.
A very public spat with Internet giant Google Inc earlier this year led to the company shutting down its main Chinese search engine and added to tensions with Washington, already strained over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and other issues.
China has the world’s largest number of Internet users and while the market has boomed as Chinese take to the Web to blog, read news or trade goods, Beijing has kept a tight grip over sensitive content on subjects like politics and ethnic unrest.
The 31-page white paper, which called the Internet “a crystallization of human wisdom,” said its usage in the most populous nation on earth was “transforming the pattern of economic development.”
Over the next five years, the government aims to give 45 percent of its 1.3 billion people access to the Internet, up from about 30 percent now, pushing everyone from officials to farmers to get online, the policy document said.
“The Chinese government encourages the use of the Internet in ways which aim to promote economic and social progress, to improve public services and facilitate people’s work and life,” it said.
Yet it promised no relaxation of stringent controls, which have seen not only pornographic and violent content blocked but also has largely blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, hugely popular sites in large parts of the rest of the world.
“Effectively protecting Internet security is an important part of China’s Internet administration, and an indispensable requirement for protecting state security and the public interest,” the paper said.
“Internet administration is a process of continuous practice, and the Chinese government is determined to improve its Internet administration work.”
Laws and regulations on what can and cannot be disseminated online, such as on “inciting ethnic hatred and secession, advocating heresy, pornography, violence (and) terror,” were “suitable for China’s conditions and consistent with international practices,” it said.
Critics, including not only politicians in the United States and Europe but also dissidents and activists at home, say China is stifling any online criticism of the government or discussion of taboo topics, including policies concerning Taiwan and Tibet.
They say the definitions of what can and cannot be discussed are so vague and open to interpretation that the government can use its Internet security laws and target anyone it does not like.
The white paper said China would accept no outside criticism of its controls.
“Within Chinese territory the Internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty. The Internet sovereignty of China should be respected and protected,” it said.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills and Ron Popeski