Customers playing online games at an Internet cafe in Fuyang, Anhui province. China has the largest Web population in the world with about 650 million users. [Photo/China Daily]
Foreign websites must abide by Chinese laws and its Internet management policies, if they want to operate in the country, a top official said on Tuesday.
Wen Ku, director of the telecom department at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said the government is committed to the healthy development of the Internet sector in China, which is already the biggest in the world with about 650 million users, and has taken several steps to regulate the industry.
Wen's comments follow reports that China has recently blocked access to several virtual private networks, a service that allows users to access websites that are currently unavailable on the Chinese mainland,
He said the rapid development of the Internet is forcing China to come up with new measures to maintain cybersecurity and steady growth.
"The country needs new methods to tackle new problems ... the development of the Internet has to be in accordance with Chinese laws," Wen said at a news conference in Beijing.
Three VPN providers－Astrill, StrongVPN and Golden Frog－claimed last week that their services had been disrupted and become unavailable for users on the Chinese mainland.
Many foreigners in China as well as some Chinese depend on VPNs to connect to servers outside the country and access blocked information and Google-based business tools.
Searches for "VPN proxy" on baidu, the largest search engine in China, still provide hundreds of entries. Many VPN service providers ask for subscription fees, starting from about 200 yuan ($32) a year. But experts have said that it is illegal for foreign companies to offer VPN services in China.
Fang Binxing, a senior online security expert, told the Global Times last week that companies running VPN businesses in China must register with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
"I have not heard of any foreign company that has registered," Fang was quoted as saying, adding that unregistered VPN service providers are not protected by Chinese laws, and any company running a VPN business should realize it has a responsibility to register.
Charlie Dai, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc, said some overseas organizations are making use of foreign online platforms to spread information that is illegal in China, and it is perfectly legitimate for the Chinese government to prevent the transmission of such services.