Earlier this week the China Internet Network Information Center issued its annual report, estimating China had 137 million Internet users aged 6 or older who spend at least one hour a week online. That’s about ten percent of China’s population and represents growth of over 23% compared to 2005’s numbers. The next day Chinese Premier Hu Jintao, in a speech to a Communist Party Internet study group, urged creation of more content “that is in good taste” and promotes Chinese culture. The goal, he said, is to “promote civilized running and use of the Internet and purify the Internet environment.” (See stories here and here.)
“Purify”–that’s a loaded word to western ears. China maintains strict control over the Internet within its borders, blocking access to certain foreign websites and running what is, in essence, an intranet. In the words of Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu in Who Controls the Internet, “physically, the Internet within China looks more and more like a giant office network, centralized by design.” What is paradoxical, from a western perspective, is that China’s political control goes hand-in-hand with dynamic utilization of the Chinese network as a platform for e-commerce. Businesses, online and offline, must accommodate–or, at least, not alienate–China’s control over political expression.
In light of that, the Yahoo story linked above ads an interesting note: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Vodafone Group recently agreed with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the EFF, Reporters Without Borders, and other organizations to establish a Code of Conduct to promote freedom of expression and privacy rights around the globe. It is unclear how participation in the Chinese market will square with this code’s objectives.