China eases control on web forums

China has scrapped a system that required Internet service providers to apply for a special licence before launching forums and chat rooms in the world's biggest online market.

Analysts however cautioned that the loosening of controls, announced on the State Council's website late last week, might be brief and could soon be replaced with more stringent regulations.

For the past 10 years, applicants wishing to provide web messaging services had to submit their business licence, Internet Content Provider licence and other documents for official examination before a fresh permit was issued.

They also had to agree to use filtering software and hire staff to monitor the services around the clock.

Experts said the complex requirements had effectively excluded individual website operators from getting approval, but might be quickly replaced by new regulations.

"There may be unified new rules in the future to govern these (services) and other online interactive applications such as social networking and micro-blogs," Liu Dan, a Beijing-based analyst with CCID Consulting, told AFP.

Beijing operates an extensive system of Internet censorship - dubbed the "Great Firewall of China" - aimed at filtering out any information deemed sensitive or politically harmful.

China now has more than 400 million web users, according to official data.