China has for the first time blocked a popular Internet search engine. The move appears to be part of a broad crackdown on the Internet in the run-up to a crucial communist Party leadership meeting in November.
Telecom industry experts in China say the government has blocked access to an American web site, Google. The leading Internet search engine is popular because it enables users in China to conduct Chinese-language web searches with ease.
Duncan Clark, head of the Internet consulting firm BDA China in Beijing, says the move marks a change of strategy in the government's attempt to control access to Internet content. "Typically, the sites that have been blocked before have been directly containing content, which was targeting users in China or considered otherwise offensive," says Mr. Clark. "Obviously, that's very difficult to do in terms of the sheer volume of websites out there."
Mr. Clark says Chinese media censors are especially vigilant now because of the upcoming Communist Party Congress in November, at which several senior leaders are expected to retire. Last week, President Jiang Zemin directed propaganda chiefs across the country to create what he called "a proper cultural environment" ahead of the congress.
Mr. Clark says that the government may have targeted the search engine Google because you can find numerous references to the banned Falun Gong meditation group. "If you were actually to do a search in Google for the name of the Chinese President Jiang Zemin, you would actually come up with 145,000 references," he says. "And the ninth one on the first page is one from the Falun Gong talking about the crimes of the president."
Mr. Clark says he expects the Internet crackdown to ease again following the leadership meeting in November. China routinely blocks access to foreign news websites and screens domestic sites for content considered subversive.