Chinese government officials have issued a blanket ban on about 100 Web sites ranging from U.S. newspapers and sexually explicit sites to services offering information on Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Chinese and Western Internet observers told the Wall Street Journal, which operates one of the blocked sites, that China had "quietly" imposed the ban last week. Other banned media sites include those operated by CNN, and the Washington Post.
The move is China's most stringent regulation of the Internet taken since it began voicing public concern about objectionable material online at the beginning of the year. Last month, Chinese government officials asked Internet users to sign a set of regulations that make it illegal for users to produce or receive pornography, as well as requiring them to receive approval before using the Internet for commercial purposes.
China has been among the most aggressive countries in pursuing the regulation of online material. Like Singapore and other Asian countries, it faces a dilemma in trying to exploit new-found economic opportunities of the Internet while restricting the services that are making it an industrial phenomenon.
But the filtering system China is using to block these sites is far from foolproof. For example, experts say, users may still be able to dial-in to the Net through overseas numbers, including those of unrestricted Internet service providers based in other countries.
Beijing officials also will have a difficult time monitoring content as the Chinese Internet population continues to rise. Xinhua, a state-run news agency, said experts predict that 120,000 citizens will be online by the end of the year, up from 1,700 in 1993. The agency predicts the number will reach 1 million by the year 2000.
Other banned sites include Chinese-language sites, news and commentaries from Taiwan, sites sponsored by Hong Kong newspapers, and Playboy and Penthouse magazines.