Sites in China may have to register domain names

An Internet cafe in Beijing. The Chinese government plans to more strictly manage websites in the country in its latest push to set boundaries in the wider online sphere.
An Internet cafe in Beijing. The Chinese government plans to more strictly manage websites in the country in its latest push to set boundaries in the wider online sphere.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

HONG KONG • China's government is taking steps to more strictly manage websites in the country in its latest push to set boundaries in the wider online sphere.

A draft law posted by one of China's technology regulators said that websites must register domain names with local service providers and with the authorities, or risk being cut off in China and facing fines of up to 30,000 yuan (S$6,300), reported the New York Times.

Domain names are Web locations such as .net or .cn.

It was unclear whether the rule will apply to all websites or only to those hosted on servers in China.

If the rule applies to all websites, it will have major implications and will effectively cut China out of the global Internet, experts have said.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology told Reuters there was a "misunderstanding" about the regulations, which "did not fundamentally conflict" with global practices.

The rules "do not involve websites that are accessed overseas, do not affect users from accessing the related Internet content and do not affect the normal development of business for overseas companies in China", it said in an e-mail.

The ministry also said it would "earnestly study" feedback which it is seeking until April 25.

Dr Rogier Creemers, a lecturer on Chinese politics at Oxford University, was quoted by New York Times as saying the new rule would enable the Chinese government to keep closer tabs on the real identities of website operators. It would also help Beijing assemble a registry of important websites if China wants to break away from the global registry that unifies the Internet.

Dr Creemers pointed out that even if the rule applies only to sites hosted in China, it will represent a consolidation of power by Beijing.

Forcing registration with Chinese entities is likely to create a new boom in domain-name service registrars. Alibaba now operates China's primary domain name service provider, called Wan Wang.

Reuters said some of China's biggest websites, including Alibaba Group's Taobao and Tmall, Baidu's search engine, JD.com's shopping site and the Sohu.com news portal, are registered overseas, according to the www.whois.net site, which provides information on the registration of websites.

"We are closely examining the draft regulation and will provide appropriate input," a Baidu spokesman told Reuters.

A JD.com spokesman said the firm was studying the draft but believed the rules would not have an impact on its business. Alibaba and Sohu declined to comment.

The Chinese government has introduced a string of measures under President Xi Jinping to assert control over the Internet.

This year, regulators created rules to block foreign companies from publishing online content in China without government consent. Regulators also shut down the social media accounts of the sharp-tongued property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang.

The websites for Google's services, Facebook and Twitter are all inaccessible in China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'Sites in China may have to register domain names'. Print Edition | Subscribe