Pre-Olympics Web censorship returns

China is defending its decision to re-erect the Great Firewall of China to block websites, including the local-language feeds of the Voice of America and the BBC, that had been freed up for the Summer Olympics.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said China reserves the right to block sites that contain content illegal under its laws, including those that recognize “two Chinas” — a reference to the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China considers a rogue province.

“They treat Taiwan as an independent country, which is against our law of anti-secessionism,” he said.

China routinely blocks Web searches that refer to sensitive issues such as the Dalai Lama or Tibet and stops sites dealing with these subjects.

However, during August’s Olympics, China opened up access to such sites as part of its promise to widen media freedom. But now many are being blocked again.

The BBC called China’s decision to block access to “regrettable.”

Other sites out of bounds include Reporters Without Borders and those of publications including Asiaweek and Ming Pao in Hong Kong. Sites in Taiwan are also being blocked.

There are now some 253 million people online in China vs. 223 million in the U.S.

Meanwhile, in a separate development, state broadcaster CCTV is continuing to highlight cases of Internet search engines abusing their position by running ads from nonlicensed medical websites.

A similar report last month forced an apology from Baidu, the country’s top search engine, but the current campaign has been broadened to include Google and other players.

The focus is on online ads that are not part of the main search engine body but sit on the right-hand side of the screen, a notorious “gray” area in Chinese marketing.

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