If credible, substantial news about Chinese government censorship and crackdowns is lacking, observers will get excited at the announcement of unclear regulations that may or may not apply to foreign websites in China. As part of its ongoing efforts to crack down on porn and other sensitive content distributed online and through mobile internet devices like cell phones, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) released on Tuesday a new set of regulations stating that only registered websites could be viewed in China. On the heels of recent announcements that ".cn" domain names would now be restricted to registered businesses – their original intended use – it is unclear whether this batch of rules applies to all the websites in the world or just to ".cn" websites.
"One interpretation is that all foreign websites would need to register in order not to be blocked in China," said Rebecca MacKinnon of the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong. "These are the folks who brought us Green Dam, so anything is possible. They are people with a track record of emitting unreasonable schemes." How quickly we forget that the Green Dam scheme was never fully realized because of the public outcry, the potential threat to business and the fact that it unintentionally prevented teachers from accessing their schools’ networks.
Restricting the Chinese population’s access to all websites except approved sites on a "whitelist" sounds like a story from The Onion, and it may hold as much truth. The Wall Street Journal points out that no such list is specifically mentioned in MIIT’s outline of the new regulations. “It’s totally a rumor,” said Shen Yang, chief editor of the book The Economics of China’s Domain Names.