China Olympics update: more free for more people, but not free for all

By: spambot on 1 August 2008
Posted in China, Asia

In one week’s time, an international uproar over the filtering of politically sensitive websites at the Olympics Main Press Center (MPC) appears to have resulted in a more open Internet-and not only for foreign journalists. On August 1, a marquee list of websites that have been tantamount to being permanently blocked by the Chinese government in recent years, including the BBC News in Chinese, the Hong-Kong based Apple Daily newspaper, Amnesty International, Radio Free Asia and even Chinese Wikipedia (, were not only accessible at Olympics venues but also for ordinary Internet subscribers in Beijing.

The abrupt about-face came only a day after the IOC confirmed filtering would be implemented at the MPC, and was announced as a joint decision of the IOC Coordination Commission and BOCOG. According to an Olympics organizer, “Internet use will be just like any Olympics.” In at least one key respect, however, these Games mark a departure, as sites relating to the Falungong spiritual movement (also known as an “evil, fake religion” in official China) and certain human rights NGOs ( remain inaccessible.

China’s system of tcp resets triggered by sensitive keywords also appears to be firmly in place:
-a Chinese search using the terms "Tibetan independence" on Chinese Wikipedia resulted in a tcp reset, while the same search using a proxy yielded 26 pages of results.
-a search on YouTube for “tank man,” “Tiananmen,” and “1989” resulted in a tcp reset.

Another open question is whether China’s Internet filtering practices will be transformed in the rest of the country, and for how long. For most Chinese citizens the situation appears to be more of the same--the usual strict supervision goes into hyperdrive as sensitive political events unfold. As international media focused their attention on websites hosted overseas, China has already tightened control over domestic cyberspace, such as online discussions on online forums and chat rooms. In July, more than 50 Chinese web portals have issued a joint declaration calling for Chinese Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to jointly welcome the Beijing Olympics Games by embracing a new online ethics and enhancing self-regulation of “harmful” information. In addition, operators are encouraged to shut off third-party SMS subscription and creation services for wireless value-added service providers, as well as BBS services. All major BBSs in China have been placed under supervision. According to one special rectification notice which appeared online, during the Olympics all information on websites must be screened before it is released. Once harmful information appears on online forums, the entire website may be shut down. On July 29, the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) issued notification of a “network moratorium” to operators, which requires Internet data center companies to cut connections for sites immediately if they engage in unauthorized rebroadcasts of Olympic events or disseminate subversive information. According to Radio Free Asia, the government requires [Zh] Internet service providers to guarantee that negative news and dissenting opinions do not appear on web portals and online forums.