BEIJING — China’s government censors have taken fresh aim at the Internet, rolling out new measures that limit its citizens’ ability to set up personal Web sites and to view hundreds of Web sites offering films, video games and other forms of entertainment.
The authorities say the stricter controls are intended to protect children from pornography; to limit the piracy of films, music, and television shows; and to make it hard to perpetuate Internet scams. But the measures also appear devised to enhance the government’s already strict control of any political opposition.
In various pronouncements, top propaganda and security officials have stressed anew the need to police the Internet on ideological and security grounds.
The “Internet has become an important avenue through which anti-China forces infiltrate, sabotage and magnify their capabilities for destruction,” wrote the public security minister, Meng Jianzhu, in the Dec. 1 issue of Qiushi, a magazine published by the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
“Therefore it represents a new challenge to the public security authority in maintaining national security and social stability,” he said.
The newly announced restrictions are the government’s broadest effort to control the Internet since June, when it tried to require manufacturers to install Internet filtering software on all new computers, experts said. Officials scaled back that program, known as the Green Dam-Youth Escort, after an outcry by both individual Internet users and corporations.
Under the new controls, more than 700 Web sites have been shut down, including many that offered free movies, television dramas and music downloads. BT China, which recorded at least 250,000 visits daily, was among them. China’s largest file-sharing site, Very CD, must obtain a new license or face possible shutdown as well, according to news media reports.
In addition, individuals have been banned from registering Web sites ending in .cn, China’s country code domain name. That domain is now limited to registered businesses. Although individuals can still register Web sites in other domains, like .com and .net, the new rule “will have a negative impact on the vibrancy of the Chinese Internet,” Kenneth Jarrett, vice chairman of the communications company APCO Worldwide’s China region, said in an e-mail message.
“Local e-mail e-commerce start-ups and individuals will find it difficult to apply,” he wrote.
Huang Xiwei, the founder of BT China, criticized the move in an interview posted on Sina.com, a popular Chinese Internet portal. “Not just film and video sites are affected,” Mr. Huang said. “All Web sites owned by individuals will gradually exit the arena. All paths leading to a future have been blocked.”
The government has also intensified pressure on cellphone companies to prevent transmissions of online pornography. In response, China Mobile, the nation’s largest cellphone operator, has suspended its practice of allowing third-party providers to sell content over its cellular network, according to the Chinese media. The disruption has dealt a blow to an industry that serves an estimated nearly 200 million mobile Internet users, industry specialists said.
Experts say the latest measures are a continuation of the state’s increasingly sophisticated effort to control the Internet’s influence on more than 300 million Chinese users. This year, China blocked Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and thousands of other Web sites.
Some analysts had predicted that those restrictions would be lifted after a spate of potentially troublesome anniversaries, including the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. But they have remained in place.
“The trend in China is toward tighter and tighter control,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Hong Kong who specializes in Chinese Internet issues. “They are basically improving their censorship mechanisms.”
Reaction to the government’s latest crackdown runs the gamut from enthusiastic support from Chinese parents who want to shield their children from pornography to harsh criticism from those who view the Internet as the best antidote to government propaganda and state-controlled media.
Among the critics are college students who are accustomed to downloading music, films and other material easily and cheaply. Some students at Beijing universities predicted that Internet users would find ways around the new online obstacles.
Still, Wang Shuang, 20, a student at Beijing Foreign Studies University, complained, “Since the BT was closed, I cannot find all the American television series that I have been watching, like ‘The Mentalist.’ ”