A Chinese government whitepaper released on Tuesday praised the Internet for improving access to information and giving citizens a way to better oversee the behavior government officials, but reaffirmed the need for policies aimed at controlling access to online content.
Titled "China's Internet situation", the whitepaper was published by China's State Council Information Office. A copy of the document (in Chinese) was posted online by portal Sohu.com.
The whitepaper praises the Internet, calling it "one of the great scientific inventions of the 20th century" and noting the positive impact it's had on economics, politics, culture, and society. The document also reaffirmed the Chinese government's long-standing commitment to promoting Internet usage as a means to speed economic development and improve the lives of Chinese citizens.
At the end of 2009, China's Internet penetration rate was 29 percent, the whitepaper said, setting a goal of raising that number to 40 percent within 5 years.
The whitepaper highlights legal guarantees in the Chinese constitution that protect freedom of speech, saying blogs, microblogging services, video-sharing sites and electronic bulletin boards create "a broader space" for citizens to share their ideas. It also cited public support for government Web sites that allow users to file corruption complaints and other grievances, saying a survey found that more than 60 percent of Chinese Internet users felt this reflected an improvement in "social democracy."
While freedom of speech figured prominently in the whitepaper, the document also cited a continued need for the use of technology to stop "illegal information dissemination" on the Internet. In particular, the government needs to use legal and technical measures to prevent the spread of information that can harm national security, upset public order or harm minors, it said, adding that service providers should also be responsible for managing online content.
China has the world's largest population of Internet users but the country also has one of the most sophisticated systems for regulating access to information. By law, content providers such as Web portals, search engines and blog-hosting sites are required to monitor and remove content the government finds undesirable. This type of information generally includes pornography but can also include politically sensitive topics, such as discussions of independence for Taiwan and Tibet as well as Falun Gong, a banned religious group.
China also regularly blocks access to some foreign Internet sites, including news sites and social-networking sites, among others.