Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Beijing will not "absolutely" force the population and manufacturers to install on computers produced or sold in the country, the "green dam" filter that can inhibit access to certain sites and report them to authorities. So says the Chinese Minister for Industry and Technology Li Yizhong, who adds that the installation of filters on all computers in schools, internet cafes and other public places will however go ahead.
In May the government announced that it was required to install filters on all computers produced and sold in the country with effect from July 1. This caused widespread protest of both the population and the international community as well as among manufacturers, so the government has suspended the requirement, explaining that not enough time had been given for adjustments to be made.
Now Li claims that the filter has always been "optional" and not mandatory and that the legislation was not correctly interpreted from the outset, because the government "fully respects the freedom of choice of each person".
The authorities have always maintained that the filter serves only to prevent access to child pornography or otherwise harmful sites and help parental control. But independent tests have shown that the filter is also capable of blocking access to many sites dealing with subjects that the government censors on a regular basis, or even to collect information on sites visited by each computer.
The American Chamber of Commerce in China welcomes the "positive step" of the Chinese government, after being very critical about forced installation of the filter. There was also controversy because the filter appears to be a copied version of Cybersitter, a new software released in the United States, and Solid Oak which owns the patent is threatening legal action against US manufacturers who install Green Dam
Some analysts commented that the government is not credible when he says that the filter has never been mandatory, since it could have stated so immediately when there was heated criticism.
China has the largest population of Internet users in the world, and Beijing wants to practice a strict censorship to prevent access to information not welcome by the government. The concern is that Internet will also help to create links between pro democracy activists and dissidents.
While the number of internet users swells, state censorship is also quick to react thanks to new technology
The company's executive director admitted that its Chinese partner "filters and censors messages passing through the portal". There is a growing list of companies forgoing freedom of expression a "basic Internet philosophy" to keep their place in the Chinese market.
One site carried news and views about farmers' protests against their local authorities. The others criticized a cartoon programme screened by state television.
The secretary of Mao and the former chief of the Propaganda Department are among 13 ex Communist officials who have urged the government to self-criticism and called upon it to reopen the Bingdian Weekly, shut down last month. They write: ""History proves that only an autocratic system needs a clamp on the press and wants to blind the masses forever."