As in many countries of the world, freedom of speech is championed but with limitations and ethical questions as to what can be said on the internet. Internet censorship in China today is perhaps one of the most sophisticated and perplexing censorship of any country in the world. Highly monitored, businesses find themselves navigating a unique environment as they operate around several administrative regulations. This ‘Great Firewall of China,’ does not have to limit the success of businesses trying to reach Chinese consumers.
In this article, business professionals can gain a better understanding of the cyber policies for internet users in the country and find attainable business practices to fruitfully expand their operations into the Chinese market.
A Short History of Internet Censorship in China
In 1994, the internet was first introduced in China as a means of communication. That same year, as the population of China became more invested in online ventures, the “Golden Shield Project” was initiated.
The project aimed to provide the Chinese government and its security organizations access to the online record of its citizens and residents. Internet regulation has become and continues to be a modern-day global ethical conundrum, and members of the Golden Shield project began working with the government to delete any online content deemed harmful, inappropriate, or against the law.
The Golden Shield Project was essentially a method to legally grapple with the complex and ever-evolving ramifications of an unregulated and overly exposed platform of voices, making the challenges of cyber freedom of speech one of the most multiplex issues of the modern world.
A Brief Look at the Rules Governing Internet Censorship in China
In June 2010, the Chinese government released a white paper covering internet censorship policy. In the paper, the government defended the need to regulate the activities of cyberspace. Excerpts from the white paper state that “within Chinese territory, the internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty. The internet sovereignty of China should be respected and protected.”
Businesses looking to expand their market reach into China should be aware of some of the basic regulations governing how the internet can be used in the country. Some of the regulations include:
- Regulation for the Management of Computer Information Network International Connection states that all internet service providers in the country must be licensed and that internet traffic must go through the appropriate networks.
- Ordinance for Security Protection of Computer Information Systems explains internet security protection is the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Security.
- Security Management Procedures in Internet Accessing checks for harmful activities on the internet. These activities may include:
- Promoting resistance or obstructing the implementation of the Constitution and administrative regulations or any activity that encourages such.
- Inciting the division of the country or an overthrow of the government.
- Inciting hatred, intolerance, or discrimination among ethnic groups.
- Spreading rumors or fabricating stories that could affect national unification or destroy the order of society.
- Promoting violence, terrorism, obscenity, pornography, or any form of criminal activity.
- Defaming government agencies or exposing sensitive information of the state.
Further, businesses should be aware that there are also regulations on internet service providers. For example, websites in China must get approval before they can include links to foreign websites or distribute news from these foreign outlets. This can affect businesses opening up to Chinese consumers.
Also, to deliver news online, a publisher must be licensed and approved by the State Council Information Agency and non-licensed publishers are only able to distribute a piece already broadcasted by a licensed publisher.
Moreover, Internet service providers have the power to delete forbidden posts made by internet users within the country and are expected to report such posts to the relevant government agencies.
Internet users are also expected to submit their real names to their service providers and can only make posts with proof of identity, a result of the government banning anonymous postings online. Service providers who fail to comply with these regulations are either shut down or may have their licenses revoked. Citizens who also refuse to comply with these rules could either be fined or arrested.
These regulations have been issued and updated since 1996 to allow provisions for the ever-evolving technological advances. As these laws govern internet usage within the Chinese territory, foreigners in the country, as well as foreign companies, are both equally expected to abide by these laws while using the internet or internet-related services.
China’s Internet Landscape Today and Business Opportunities
In one year, China blocked more than 1 million websites, a number that keeps growing each year. Businesses might find it a daunting task to craft an online presence when so many familiar websites and popular engagement apps are restricted. These include Google, Chinese Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest and The New York Times. However, there is still much that can be done to successfully market and generate online business in China. For instance, Google built a censored search engine to cater specifically to Chinese internet users.
And there are plenty of reasons why a business should take the time to work within Chinese internet regulations. With international trade, China has one of the largest internet economies. Nine of the top 20 internet companies by market value are based in China.
The massive growth of the Chinese internet economy is largely attributed to the fact that the country’s internet economy is veiled from foreign competition in European, American, and Japanese markets. With so many other businesses shying away from the challenge of navigating China’s cyber policies, the few businesses that choose to forge ahead are presented with the opportunity to engage with over 800 million internet users currently in China.
The introduction and tightening of international cyber policies will not slow down anytime soon. Businesses have been able to operate in a very open landscape for the past couple of years as the public usage of the internet took off. Businesses and internet users can expect to see more governmental institutions take a stance on internet usage privileges and restrictions. Which is to say that businesses should not avoid operating and marketing in the Chinese market simply because of the effort it takes to navigate the policies.
There are two ways a business could digitally begin to explore the Chinese market. The first option is that a business could look to host a website in Hong Kong. The website would not have a Chinese domain (.cn), but it would load faster for China-based users. The second option is that a business could choose to host a website in mainland China with a Chinese domain (.cn) and then have access to Baidu SEO. This would require a Chinese ICP (Internet Content Provider) License.
Tenba is always available to consult with businesses looking to translate their website into Chinese or wanting to find out more information on creating websites with Chinese cyber policies in mind. Get in touch and discover what opportunities await your growing business!
The cyber-world is no longer a novel invention, and more countries are beginning to tighten the controls over domestic internet use and online business operations. Internet censorship in China is just one hurdle businesses will face when crafting a digital business strategy. Those that work through the regulations are given the chance to engage in a large and rather untouched market. While “The Great Firewall of China” seems impossible to surpass, businesses on the other side can marvel at the design of their business feats!
Are you curious to find out more about doing business in China? Read Tenba Groups 7 tips for doing business in China and our recent blog article on China’s One Belt One Road Initiative and your digital business opportunities.