- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

China’s official Internet industry association is calling on its members not to “produce, disseminate and spread information that harms state security, social stability … [or] violates laws and regulations and social morality.”

American technology titans working in the communist country had nothing to say after the statement was released Wednesday.

Founded in 2001 with 182 members, the Internet Society of China has more than 2,600 member companies. The statement did not provide examples of content that should be suppressed or say what prompted the appeal but did acknowledge the Internet’s importance to the country’s more than 111 million users.

“However, unhealthy information has harmed the physical and mental health of children and minors,” said the statement reported by the government’s Xinhua news agency.

“I think this is an example of the fact that nation-states still very much have a heavy thumb on the Internet,” said Andy Lipman, a partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP in Washington who specializes in Internet and telecommunications issues.

“Because of [World Trade Organization] and free-trade issues, it’s more convenient for the Chinese government to have this kind of [action] being advocated by what appears — at first blush — to be a non-government entity,” he added.

On the same day the society’s statement was released, Google Inc.’s chief executive defended the Mountain View, Calif., company’s cooperation with Chinese government censorship. “We believe that the decision that we made to follow the law in China was absolutely the right one,” Eric Schmidt said at a press conference in Beijing.

In February, House members criticized representatives from Google, Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. for helping the Chinese government suppress its citizens’ freedoms online. Lawmakers were particularly angered by two cases in which Yahoo provided information to police that resulted in the imprisonment of political dissidents, and that the search-engine companies agreed to censor queries to eliminate words such as “democracy.”

Spokesmen from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco did not return calls and e-mails for comment yesterday. At the February hearing, the companies urged the U.S. government to take up the privacy and censorship issues directly with their Chinese counterparts, saying the four U.S. businesses did not have leverage to enforce policy changes on their own.

The Internet Society of China’s English-language Web site (www.isc.org.cn/English) was last updated in 2002, and Cisco was the only one of the four listed as a member at that time.

Fourteen Beijing-based portals, including Yahoo’s Chinese site, on Sunday issued a joint statement saying they were blocking pornographic and violent Internet content voluntarily, an earlier Xinhua report said.

“No indecent texts and photos, no search engines for such content, no links to indecent Web sites, and no games involving sex and violence,” the statement said.

The portals’ proposal, which on Tuesday was joined by 11 news Web sites, also urged others to ban “illegal, obscene and ‘poor taste’ photos, texts or audio messages on online forums, chat rooms and blogs,” Xinhua reported.

The sites vowed to self-censor Internet content to comply with the “Eight Honors and Disgraces,” a socialist morality framework from Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is scheduled to visit the U.S. next week.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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