Liu Zhengrong, deputy director-general of Internet Affairs Bureau under the State Council Information Office, met with the press on February 14 to discuss the development and management of the Internet in China.
Guo Weimin, director general of the Press Bureau under the State Council Information Office, chaired the press conference. The following is the full coverage of meeting:
Guo Weimin: Good afternoon, everybody. We recently received applications from some media organizations including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, representatives of which are here today, inquiring into the development and management of the Internet in China. We've organized this special news conference to address those issues. We are honored to have present with us Mr Liu Zhengrong, deputy director-general of Internet Affairs Bureau of the State Council Information Office.
Liu Zhengrong: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Before I take your questions, I'd like to make three points:
First, the Internet has developed very rapidly in China and we now have approximately 110 million Internet users. China ranks second in the world in terms of Internet usage. The Chinese government is fully aware of the advancement and importance of the Internet, and has therefore dedicated itself to promoting its development and wider application in the country. Our attitude towards the Internet is very positive.
Second, China regulates the Internet according to law and has accordingly enacted relevant rules and regulations. We also advocate self-discipline on the part of the Internet industry.
Third, China's management of the Internet follows international practices. We value and have learned from successful international experiences and practices in this respect.
One more point I'd like to make is that in China, the Internet is subject to the administration of several government departments. They include the Ministry of Information Industry, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Culture, and the State Council Information Office.
At this juncture, I will take your questions.
Lianhe Zaobao (Singapore): Based on what you have just said, how do the State Council Information Office and other government departments divide the work?
Liu: The State Council Information Office, the Ministry of Information Industry, and the Ministry of Public Security are the three key departments that administrate the Internet, taking charge of Internet news and information services, industry management, and cracking down on Internet crimes respectively. There is division of work and coordination of efforts among them, as well as with other administrative departments.
Sing Tao Daily (Hong Kong): You said China regulates the Internet according to law, and at the same time in the light of international practices. Can you give some examples?
Liu: Overall, what we have done in regulating the Internet is consistent with international practice.
First of all, a majority of the countries in the world have agreed to administrate the Internet according to law. Since the mid-1990s the US, the EU, the UK, France and Germany where the Internet has been widely used have made significant progress in Internet legislation. China has also made great efforts to this end.
Second, as is well known, legislation always lags behind real development of the Internet. This situation forces the industry to solve newly emerging problems first. The Internet Society of China, established in 2001, has drawn up rules and regulations to enhance self-discipline within the industry, and has achieved the desired results. Similarly, the US, the UK, France, Germany and Australia have their own Internet confederations.
Third, to give play to public supervision of the Internet, China has set up informants' hotlines and websites. In June 2004, the Internet Society of China started a website called China Reporting Center of Illegal and Unhealthy Information (URL: www.net.China.cn), which has a similar function to the UK's Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
Fourth, we attach great importance to public education. In our opinion, it's essential to heighten general awareness, particularly for teenagers, to stay away from harmful information spread on the Internet. Our view happens to coincide with that of many Western countries, which have also advocated strengthening public education for the appropriate use of the Internet in recent years.
Wall Street Journal: It seems that some websites would not be allowed by China to publish politics-oriented content, especially that which the government does not agree with. How does the Chinese government inform Internet companies of the type of information that is illegal and not allowed to be released? Is there a list that names the websites and the types of contents that are not allowed to be disseminated? Or are they to decide for themselves what contents are not allowed to be published in China?
Liu: Generally speaking, opinion on China's public affairs is actively discussed on the Internet in China, including sharply worded political content. As for the topics and contents that are prohibited to be spread, Chinese laws such as the Resolution of the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Internet Safety and Regulations on Online Information Service Management contain specific provisions. In recent years, the Internet-related confederations have played an active role in helping website administrators and users understand these laws.
We have also encouraged website administrators to handle illegal and unhealthy information on their own initiative. I would like to share an important figure with you today: China Reporting Center of Illegal and Unhealthy Information had received 235,000 reports on illegal and unhealthy information as of yesterday (February 13, 2006) since the center was set up. All the member sites of the Internet Society of China have access to details of these reports through a technical system.
The third piece of work we have done is to educate Internet staff to raise public consciousness of safeguarding public interests. Websites should be aware that they serve public interests when spreading content, including news stories, because information dissemination in China is playing a more and more important role in society. Further, I can definitely tell you that the name list you mentioned does not exist.
China Daily: With regard to Internet users posting messages, I have noticed two situations: on the one hand, some foreign media criticize Chinese websites for deleting Internet users' messages; on the other hand, I myself often surf the Internet and I have seen some media, for example, The New York Times, gave similar regulations for its website, saying that the administrator reserves the right to delete certain messages if necessary. I would like to know what your comments are concerning these two situations. Thanks.
Liu: It is very normal for websites to delete illegal and harmful information. This is a common practice for websites all over the world, so it is for China. We have also noticed that some leading US websites including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo, and AOL all have explicit stipulations when it comes to posting messages in forums.
For example, The New York Times website says: "We reserve the right to delete, move or edit messages that we deem abusive, defamatory, obscene, in violation of copyright or trademark laws or otherwise unacceptable. We reserve the right to remove the posting privileges of users who violate these standards of Forum behavior at any time."
Websites in the US have stipulated that Internet users cannot violate US laws nor infringe on other people's rights and intellectual property rights while posting their messages. Internet users are not allowed to engage in business activities through posting messages. It is unfair and smacks of double standards when criticizing China for deleting illegal and harmful messages while it is legal for US websites to do so.
As a country with very advanced Internet development, the US has comparatively mature experiences. Many methods we used are learned from the US. We will continue to adopt successful and beneficial Internet management practices from around the world.
New York Times: What are your comments on US companies' cooperation with China in accordance with Chinese laws? Have some leading US media and Internet firms including Microsoft, Google and Yahoo spared no effort to obey China's Internet laws and regulations? Have their management of the Internet posed some threat to China?
Liu: China's Internet market is huge and open. We welcome foreign firms to provide legal Internet services in China. Chinese laws will also protect their legal rights. Those big international firms you mentioned should know how to provide legal Internet services. As to what to do? It's their business. But there is one widely acknowledged principle: firms that provide services in China including Internet firms should respect and obey Chinese laws.
As I know, when these firms enter the Chinese market, they all have studied the relevant laws and regulations in China. I believe more foreign businesses will benefit from the increasingly attractive market.
Washington Post: You just mentioned many Chinese laws and regulations and I'd like to know whether foreign firms and joint ventures in China can get approval as Internet content providers. Do you have any specific legislation in this regard? In addition, as China has regulations for news information services and the country has a large number of individual websites and web logs, can users post comments on news stories freely or must they get approval? Also you talked about illegal, harmful information, I'd like to mention a case. Before the Spring Festival, many websites were told not to publish news reporting the closure of Bingdian Weekly (Freezing Point Weekly, a feature supplement of China Youth Daily). Do you think the news itself was illegal or harmful?
Liu: Our regulations on online information service management define the websites that can provide information services. We divide them into two categories. The first is "for profit" that requires registration; the other is "non-profit" that requires the website to be put on record. Websites must get approval for providing four kinds of information including news, publications, education, and medicine.
The Regulations on Management of Online News Services issued last September stipulate that websites must get approval for providing news information. So far, 163 websites have been approved. The web logs and other websites that provide on-line message services, which you mentioned, should go through procedures in line with Regulations on Management of Internet Bulletin Board Systems. I won't go into detail here due to time constraints.
The shutting down of Bingdian Weekly triggered heated online discussions. I think it's common for a newspaper to make adjustments. No need to exaggerate it. I have found many comments about Bingdian. This morning, I happened to read a comment and printed it out. I have it here and I'd like to share with you.
The comment, posted by a user on club.cat898.com, said it's the internal thing for China Youth Daily to readjust its section as a newspaper has its own editorial system. It's not reasonable to make any wild guesses. An article on Bingdian even said the invasion of China by the Eight Allied Powers (aggressive troops sent by Britain, the US, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, Italy and Austria in 1900) was because of the anti-imperialist Yihetuan Movement in China. Few Chinese will accept this point. I think it should be rectified, the user said. After this news conference, I'd like to provide a copy to any of you who are interested in it.
Beijing Review: Could you please introduce the Chinese government's principles of Internet development and administration in detail?
Liu: I can generalize our basic attitude toward the Internet in two phrases. The first one is to actively boost the development of the Internet, while the other is to administrate it according to law. We abide by the following basic principles:
First, we regulate the Internet according to law and has made necessary legislation. Pay attention to my expression "necessary legislation." Necessary legislation is to respect the law of Internet development and boost its development as well.
Second, let the Internet industry circles solve their problems wherever possible, but moderate administration measures from government departments are also needed to foster its development. That is to say, Internet administration should facilitate its development.
Third, let market forces lead the application of Internet technologies. Our administration should not hinder the development of Internet technology. This shows that we have fully realized the advancement of the Internet.
Fourth, let the public play a role in administrating the Internet wherever possible.
Straits Times: Some Chinese Internet users were arrested for publishing critical articles on Yahoo.com, so I want to know how the Ministry of Public Security gets their information from Yahoo Inc. Does it issue an order or directly ask staff members of Yahoo for information? What I want to know essentially is how the Chinese government gets Internet service providers (ISPs), foreign ISPs in particular, to disclose such information.
Liu: So far, no one has been arrested in China for publishing articles on the Internet. As for what acts attract criminal liability, the Resolution of the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Internet Safety has already given a clear description.
As I have just stressed, all companies must abide by Chinese laws within China. China is a country administrated in accordance with the law. Thus, related law enforcement departments and law enforcement officers will do their duty according to the law.
I have more to add even if what I am about to say might not be relevant to your questions. It would be baffling if police or law enforcement departments to turn a blind eye to violations on the Internet. According to studies, the US has done well in this respect. As far as I know, the USA Patriot Act promulgated in 2001 has detailed provisions on how law enforcement agencies can get citizens' personal information and communications situation. I once saw a Reuter's report, which claimed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had adopted an e-mail collection system named "Carnivore." It was later renamed dsc1000. It is said that millions of e-mail can be collected per second through the system. What I want to say is that the law enforcement departments of every nation will pay attention to the spread of illegal information and the violations on the Internet.
I can still remember one example clearly. During the US presidential elections in 2000, an American youth posted a piece of information threatening others in an online forum of a well known US media company. It was soon discovered by the US law enforcement department and those involved were punished accordingly.
Lianhe Zaobao: As Mr. Liu has just said and emphasized, no one has been arrested in China simply because he or she said something on the Internet, and the government adopts explicit lawful management over Internet affairs. May I ask a question that if illegal activities did take place on some websites, for example, if they published some illegal comments, what would the Internet Affairs Bureau and the Public Security Ministry do? Till now, how many websites have been penalized for such occurrences and what are the penalties? Another question, you have said that blogs and personal websites are also subject to relevant approval procedures if they want to release news-like information. How many blogs or personal websites have applied for approval? And what did the authorities do about the websites that might have released news comments without having first gone through the required formalities?
Liu: Reports from the public are the main way we deal with illegal and harmful information. As I have just introduced, the China Reporting Center of Illegal and Unhealthy Information has received 235,000 tip-offs from the public since it was set up in June 2004. A part of those tip-offs can be dealt with directly by related websites because there is a system through which the websites can receive such reports immediately. The rest are passed on to relevant government departments and those governmental departments are responsible for informing related websites that they are to delete the illegal and harmful information on their websites. It is called the "Notification-Deletion" mechanism, and is also an international practice.
Referring to the question about blogs and personal websites carrying news, I hope you can be clear about one thing and that is that not all the news released needs a permit. Those which need permission are information related to politics, economy, military and foreign affairs, since such news is closely linked to the public interest. The prerequisites to providing Internet information services are stipulated by the Regulations on Management of Online News Services. I can give you the related materials after this press conference.
Penalties imposed on websites carrying illegal and harmful information have been lenient in China. Under ordinary circumstances, ordering the deletion of the information has been enough. No website has been shut down as a result.
China News Service: In your introduction you said that China's Internet industry has drawn on the experience of other countries, and China set up an industry organization as well as an Internet society. Could you please give some examples of how the Internet self-regulating organization deals with problems?
Liu: The major aim of setting up Internet trade organizations is not to deal with problems on the Internet. It is to facilitate the industry's development and to contribute to exchange and cooperation. These Internet trade organizations have drawn up some pledges and performance specifications. One important aim is to prevent vicious competition within the industry. As to the problems facing the industry, the industry's representatives are working together for solutions. The self-discipline concept has achieved good results, at least in three aspects. First, unlike before, the industry now has its own standards. Second, there is room for industry players to communicate and discuss with one another. Third, these players can collate the industry's opinions and proposals and make representations to government organs, which would help the government understand the industry better. Many problems confronting China's Internet industry have been resolved within the framework of industry self-discipline. As I know, the Internet Society of China organizes overseas research trips every year for members and related specialists to learn from overseas Internet organizations.
New York Times: I have two questions. First, in your reply to the aforementioned question on the Yahoo case, you denied there was such a case, and that nobody has ever been arrested merely for publishing his/her comments on the Internet. However, this information from Yahoo shows that a male citizen in Sichuan Province was arrested for his comments published on the Internet, and was charged for subversion. The most important evidence is that his comments were published on the Internet. Do you have any different understanding of this case? The second question is about the definition of "harmful information". Is there any difference between the definitions of "harmful information" as is set by the traditional media, including the newspapers, magazines and TV and new media, including blogs and BBS on the Internet?
Liu: My point on the Yahoo case is clear: nobody has been arrested merely for publishing his/her comments on the Internet. As to the details of this case, I believe the court is much clearer of them. I don't think it is logical to judge the case based only on what you've said.
With regard to the definitions of harmful information, there are clear definitions in different countries. I studied the US Child Online Protection Act, UK's defamation laws, Germany's Information and Communication Services Act (Multimedia Law, das Multimediagesetz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) and related laws in France. These laws prompt me to think that there are basic common standards regarding what kind of information can be described as harmful, whether online or offline. And I have noticed that there is such a formulation: a category of information is harmful if the majority of normal people think it is harmful according to normal standards.
Washington Post: I would like to ask you a question about browsing the Internet. I know that most foreign media websites can be accessed in China, but there are still some that are not accessible. Is it because that these websites provide some harmful information? I'd like to know how the Chinese government decides which websites can be accessed and which can not. Is there a list? And which department decides this? Lately, some Chinese were very concerned about a textbook website which they could no longer get access to. I would like to know whether this website is also on that list of the Chinese government. Is it because it had carried some harmful information?
Liu: A few foreign websites cannot be fully accessed in China. The reason is that some foreign websites publish some content that is against Chinese laws. A Chinese Internet service provider (ISP) would follow the laws to implement some technical measures on these websites. This is fully understandable and also necessary. As you mentioned, there are no problems accessing many of the better-known websites from around the world, including well-known media websites, from China. Those not accessible are mainly the websites which carry pornographic or terrorist content.
In fact, Chinese citizens have found it much easier to exchange information and communicate with the outside in recent years. To ensure a smooth connection between the Chinese Internet and the international Internet, the bandwidth of the Chinese Internet for international connection was increased from 2,799 Mbit in 2000 to 136,100 Mbit at the end of last year, a growth of 48 times in five years.
We have our own standard to determine which websites should not be permitted to release information in China. This standard was set according to Chinese laws and regulations. We didn't set an Internet policy for a particular country or for a particular website. There is only one standard. Our information is transparent. Early last year, the website of China Reporting Center of Illegal and Unhealthy Information published a list of blocked foreign pornographic websites. This list was later taken away from the site, because the public was afraid that if these websites were made known, it would help and encourage some people to gain access to their harmful information.
There are three basic facts that no one can deny: First, people in China can use the Internet freely. Second, the number of foreign websites which cannot be fully accessed in China is very few and limited. Third, the connection between China's Internet and the international Internet has improved tremendously.