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China unleashes new Internet watchdog

Org to oversee online industry

China has set up a new Internet information office that will bring together various government agencies to monitor the world’s largest online market.

The State Council Internet Information Office will direct the development of online gaming, TV, video, audio and publication industries, the government said in a statement. It will also be responsible for investigating websites and punishing them if they violate laws or regulations.

China has the world’s largest Internet population, with 450 million users, and it also has some of the world’s strictest Internet controls, a system often called “The Great Firewall of China.”

It will also coordinate the agencies in planning and implementing cultural development on the Internet, per the notice on the government website.

Beijing blocks many popular social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and the government has intensified those efforts after pro-democracy protest erupted across the Middle East and North Africa this year.

“The Internet has become an important part of the Chinese economy and society… it has great influence and promotes social development as well as the citizens’ right to know, to participate, to express and to supervise,” an official from the new office told the Xinhua news agency.

“Although China’s Internet sector has witnessed rapid growth since the mid-1990s, some problems, such as online porn and vulgar content, online gambling and fraud as well as illegal online marketing tricks, have been hampering its sound development,” the official said.

Foreign criticisms of China’s Internet regulation were a “deliberate and groundless smear plot against China.”

The agency seems to be intended to boost coordination among the dozen or more government ministries and agencies dealing with the Internet. It will be based in the State Council Information Office, the government’s propaganda and information arm.

China’s booming economy needs the Internet to keep information and logistics flowing, but the government dislikes the platform it provides for dissent and has tried to control content and steer it towards commercial applications, rather than into politically murky waters.

In February, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for stricter government management of the Internet, telling officials they needed to come to grips with the “virtual society” online.

Senior staff who will work at the office while keeping other posts will include its boss Wang Chen, also the director of the State Council Information Office, and Zhang Xinfeng, a Vice Minister of Public Security.

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