China is considering new website censorship regulations that could see Australian businesses forced off the Internet in the communist-run country.
In an update to China’s decade-old Internet laws, new proposed regulations will require businesses that provide services to Chinese citizens to have their domain name registered with the local government.
Businesses that fail to meet this new criterion will be blocked as part of the Chinese government’s ongoing push under President Xi Jinping to establish control over the internet in China.
If applied strictly, the regulations could prevent the online presence of Australian businesses from reaching consumers in China.
Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor of journalism and communications at the University of Hong Kong, told Quartz that the move could affect thousands of Australian businesses.
“Censorship would be the norm and not the exception. In the past you were allowed to exist as long as you didn’t piss anyone off,” says Mr Tsui.
A spokesman from the US-China Business Council says concerns have also been raised over the increased influence the regulations will give Chinese authorities on the monitoring of Australian operators and content.
“The intentions here seem to be beyond just codifying China’s already strict regulations, but also to find levers to have more control over international actors and the Internet via their own Internet,” says the spokesman.
He says that regulations also aim to further filter Internet content which fails to provide a positive image of China or its government.
“In an interesting example, the Economist website was accessible within China with sensitive articles blocked for consumption. However, last week’s edition featured president Xi on the cover, and resulted in the entire site being blocked locally.”
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has announced violators of the new regulations could face fines of up to 30,000 yuan ($6,000).
This enforcement is predicted to spur on an unprecedented demand for government-approved domain names in China.
“The domain name regulations would likely increase the amount of companies with domain names in China, to exert more influence on Internet governance and also the rules under which those companies act,” says the spokesman.
In accordance with the China’s Doman Name Registration Agreement, websites are not allowed to register or use a domain name that is deemed to be “against the basic principles prescribed in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China”.
This includes websites which suggest treason, criminal activities or public endangerment.
The vagueness of the law allows it to be randomly enforced and stands as another hurdle for Australian websites, should the regulations be passed.
China already has some of the world’s most severe Internet controls, including the notorious Great Firewall, which filters out information deemed undesirable by the government.
Various websites such as Google and Twitter are blocked and cannot be accessed from within China without a virtual private network.
Public discussion has now closed on the drafted regulations, which were posted on the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s website.
No date has been confirmed for the introduction of the new regulations.