Peking censors BBC's websites

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The Independent Online
CHINA'S WARM welcome last week for Tony Blair is in sharp contrast to Peking's recent decision to block various BBC websites, including Internet sites that allow mainland computer users to listen to Chinese- language BBC World Service broadcasts, which are also sometimes jammed.

There are now 1.2 million mainlanders who shang wang (use the Net), and the government estimates this will reach five million by 2000. In a country where the media operates within strict political limits, the Net is a window on the world for a privileged minority - until the censors decide otherwise.

Internet users in Peking can no longer gain access to the BBC's Mandarin- language broadcasts or read transcripts of the BBC Chinese Service news. The blocking appears to have been prompted by the provision since August of Chinese-language audio material. However, the web pages of the East Asia Today programme, which carries extensive English-language news about China, are also affected.

The Chinese government's attitude towards the Internet mixes enthusiasm for the cyber future with long-standing Communist fear about the free flow of information. The central government has poured millions of pounds into telecommunications infrastructure and encouraging the development of Internet use. Meanwhile, the country's online police struggle to keep pace with the information that can be downloaded.

The Ministry of Public Security's regulations forbid using the Internet for such crimes as "inciting to overthrow the social system" or "promoting feudal superstitions". All China's Internet access providers are closely regulated.