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Internet facilitates information flow
By Li Hong (Chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2006-02-28 09:33

China's meteoric Internet growth, already eye-catching in the world, has an even greater development potential, and will continue to promote a freer flow of information in China, major website executives and experts attending a seminar in South China's Hainan Province said recently.

China, the world's second largest Internet market after the United States with 111 million Internet users, is expected to see an annual jump of at least 15 percent in the number of netizens before 2010.

"This means big business and enormous opportunities," said Wang Yan, chief executive officer of sina.com, a top Chinese portal listed on the New York Nasdaq stock exchange.

People hooked to the Internet now account for a mere 8.4 percent of China's total population. Web-based business is still at its ascent, said more than 70 executives and Internet researchers who attended the annual meeting of the Internet Information Service Commission of the Internet Society of China in Hainan on Monday.

"Among the countries whose per-capita yearly GDP is less than US$2,000, China has witnessed the fastest Internet sector growth, and the boom is a manifestation of China's effective yet market-friendly regulation," Wang said.

Up to 20 Chinese firms have been listed abroad, mainly in the United States, with a gross market value exceeding US$10 billion, and more are waiting to get on the bandwagon.

Wang said that this success partly testifies to the authorities' guiding and overseeing the sector, and he believes there may exist a misunderstanding among some foreigners who criticize China's Internet system.

Web executives and sector experts at the seminar said that keeping out "illegal and harmful" information from the Internet is a worldwide common practice.

"China's overseeing Internet content is in tandem with world norms. Many big websites in the world have explicit written rules on deleting or editing netizens' messages that they deem abusive, defamatory, offensive, obscene, or in violation of a specific law," said Professor Ming Dahong, of the journalism research institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Participants of the seminar echoed Professor Ming's views. He Hongzhen, corporate affairs manager of the Nasdaq-listed Chinese top search engine baidu.com, said that it is all Chinese Internet companies' responsibility to strive for a healthy, orderly, and well-regulated Internet environment. He deemed that China's Internet management mode of "government regulation hand in hand with sector self-discipline" is effective and beneficial to the long-term net growth in China.

It remains an arduous task for the Internet sites to keep a somber mind in constantly ferreting out "illegal and harmful" information, typically obscene and pornographic content that poisons the young and vulnerable, particularly children. According to a recent survey, young people under the age of 18 consist of 60 percent of China's total netizen population.

Since its launch in June 2004, the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center has received more than 240,000 tips from the public complaining of illicit or irregular Internet-related content and acts. Of the total clues reported, 68.2 percent are porn related, and 8.2 percent concerns Web gambling and fraudulence.

Chinese experts said that the reporting center is identical to the functioning of the Internet Watch Foundation of the United Kingdom. China will soon join a 17-member world Internet overseeing federation, headquartered in Ireland, a source revealed.

Fang Xingdong, chairman and CEO of bokee.com, China's largest blog website, said in an interview, that he foresees a volcanic rise of blog writers in the coming years. Fang estimated that China now has up to 12-15 million active bloggers, who are contributing 65,000 blogs an hour.

"Their writings are freewheeling, dynamic, and interactive with millions reading and commenting. These people are making thousands of varied statements on the Internet," Fang said. "It is really a mistake to say there is no freedom of Internet speech in China."

"As a matter of fact, the unprecedented rapid growth of Internet has activated the democratic process of China's society, and made the country better informed and connected with the world community," said Huang Chengqing, secretary general of the Internet Society of China.

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