Government-approved cybercafés will install special software
The Chinese government is pressing ahead openly with plans to set up a countrywide monitoring and control system through a system of strictly controlled Internet café chains.
"China has now openly stated that it will install software to supervise the Internet throughout the entire country."
Ministry of Culture marketing official Liu Yuzhu told a recent conference on International Internet Culture that the central government had instituted a new system of approval and control for around 100 Internet café chains, involving more than 110,000 Internet cafes throughout China.
Liu said that Internet cafés would be managed in a standardized manner on a large scale by 2005. In addition, he said, efforts would be made to form a country-wide monitoring and control system, according to a recent report in the Beijing Morning News .
The international press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders, told RFA that Liu's announcement constituted a new and worrying development in China's control of online information.
"China has had software for monitoring and controlling the Internet for a long time," spokeswoman Julianne Fan told RFA correspondent Lucy Lu. "However, China has now openly stated that it will install software to supervise the Internet throughout the entire country."
Fan said that turning Internet cafés into chains means that large companies and capital would own all China's Internet cafés. "By centralizing management over the Internet, China can require that these one hundred Internet café chains install software to monitor and control the Internet," she added.
An employee at an Internet cafe in the western province of Sichuan told RFA that police had installed monitoring software on every computer at his workplace in January, along with most other Internet cafés in his area.
"You have to register with an ID card. We have special monitor-control software from the Public Security Bureau," he said, adding that there had been very little effect on business as a result. "Because they don't know about it. They can't tell that anything has changed," he said.
The Beijing Morning News said 10 large-scale cultural and telecommunication companies received approval through a competitive process in June to begin preparations for constructing Internet café chains. Under the new system, each province will select one to three cultural and telecommunication companies with strength in this field to operate the chains locally.
In this way, less than 100 Internet café chains will be needed to organize the more than 110,000 Internet cafés throughout the entire country and conduct standardized management on a large scale, the report said.
China is keen to promote Internet use for economic and educational purposes but fears it might be used to enable isolated critics to coordinate their actions — ; posing a threat to Communist Party rule. The authorities have recently sentenced several Web users to jail for posting opinions online which were critical of the regime.
Earlier this week, a Chinese businessman who posted an article on the Internet on the sensitive topic of rural unrest was sentenced to three years in jail for subversion, while a High Court in Beijing upheld eight- and 10-year sentences for four Chinese dissidents who posted their opinions online.
Chinese economist He Qinglian told RFA in a recent interview that the monitoring system was the most advanced of its kind in the world. "This monitoring system was jointly built by China's Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of National Security," He said. "The initial investment for this project has reached as high as U.S.$800 million."