China said it has shut down more than 130,000 "illegal" Internet cafes, according to a new government report issued this week, and vows to extend the crackdown from urban to rural areas.
Nearly 7,000 of the closures took place in 2010.
The closures took place over the past six years as part of Beijing's long-term strategy to regulate cybercafes, official media reported on Friday.
China has rolled out tough new regulations aimed at monitoring Internet usage across the country in the past year, with many Internet cafes now requiring a swipe of smart ID cards before allowing people online.
Government regulations also called for Internet cafes in some regions to hook up their surveillance cameras to a central viewing channel monitored by the provincial government by the end of the year.
Businesses that do not comply have been threatened with punishments and fines, officials say.
Rights activists say that while the government claims that the new regulations are in place to protect underage netizens from inappropriate and pornographic content, they are also used by the ruling Communist Party to limit content that Chinese netizens can view online.
They say that hidden behind the government's management of Internet cafes is an attempt to limit the explosion of public opinion that has occurred on Chinese websites in recent years.
More regulation seen
The report, titled "2010 China Internet Cafe Market Report," was released on Thursday by China's Ministry of Culture.
"In 2011, the country's Internet cafe market will continue to experience hardships in industrial upgrading and structural adjustments," an unnamed ministry official was quoted as saying by official media.
"The government will continue to regulate the order of the market by promoting large Internet cafe chains," the official said.
According to the report, China had around 163 million Internet cafe users at the end of 2010, an increase of 21.1 percent compared with the previous year.
But the overall market lost nearly 13 percent of its turnover following the new rules, it added.
China had a total of 457 million Internet users at the end of 2010.
The ministry will focus this year on supervising Internet cafes in rural China, and step up punishment for business owners who allow minors to use Internet cafe facilities.
Authorities have made it illegal for Internet cafes to serve minors under the age of 18, citing concerns that Web content could endanger their well-being.
Last year, the government made it harder for Internet cafes to start up in business and announced a series of franchises for nationwide chains.
This followed a statement from government-backed Internet Cafe Associations in 30 major Chinese cities and provinces the previous year, vowing to abide by China’s laws and regulations concerning the Internet.
The ministry said it would continue to promote government-backed Internet cafe chains, while enforcing rules to stop people setting up Internet cafes on their own.
In a policy paper on the Internet issued last year, the government listed as forbidden any content that "endangers state security," "divulges state secrets," or "subverts state power"—all charges that have been levied in Chinese courts against prominent dissidents and human rights activists in recent years, often resulting in lengthy prison sentences.
Any content that jeopardizes "ethnic unity," interferes with government religious policies, propagates "heretical or superstitious ideas," or "disrupts social stability" is also banned, according to the regulations governing China's Internet.
Such charges have been brought against Tibetans, Uyghurs, and other ethnic minorities who voice open disagreement with or protest against Beijing's policies in their homelands, or who call peacefully for independence or greater autonomy from Chinese rule.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.