China may seem a little freer today because of the Olympics. Some international Internet sites like the Voice Of America, which were blocked before the games, are now unblocked. Still, this is not to say that China is no longer censoring the Internet. As VOA's Brian Padden reports, it might just mean that the Chinese government is getting better at accentuating a positive image while selectively filtering out any negative viewpoints.
The Voice of America's Web page is one of a number of international news sites that received an Olympic reprieve after being blocked for years by what critics call the "great firewall Of China." China unblocked the Web site at the start of the Beijing Olympics and since then Internet traffic has increased by 58,000 visitors a day.
William Baum, the chief of VOA's China Broadcast Service says new visitors to the site have mixed reactions to reports that are critical of the Chinese government. "When you live in an environment where your media is closed and the only source of news, particularly international news, comes from state controlled media such as Xinhua and CCTV - when you hear any kind of contrasting view, people are likely to suspect that view as not being objective."
While China can now say that it has opened up access to the Internet, Baum says the country's reported 30,000 Internet monitors are still hard at work. Stories or links within the site that refer to controversial topics like Tibet or Taiwan are still selectively blocked. And Chinese domestic sites have come under even more scrutiny.
Zhang Shihe writes a daily blog in Beijing about whatever is on his mind. He says his site which has about 1,500 subscribers was shut down 11 of the last 30 days. "Over the last three years, the restrictions have been gradually increasing," he said. "Three years ago, my blog was never deleted. It's getting more and more strict. Everyday it's getting more strict. It's not necessarily because of the Olympics, because even before the opening of the Olympics, they were strengthening the control."
Some Young Chinese at an Internet café in Beijing seem unaffected by the government restrictions on the Internet:
"I seldom log on to foreign Web sites," Sun Xiaoqing said.
"I shop on the Internet, and chat. I seldom look at news, but my mom does," Surnamed Zhou commented.
"I just search for entertainment news," Zhang Jiei said. "Mostly look at news. I rarely play games. Sometimes I download songs."
But even downloading music has political and economic repercussions. Itunes, owned by Apple an American computer company, was temporarily blocked in August; right after it released an album called songs for Tibet.
Gilbert Kaplan, an attorney representing the California First Amendment Coalition is urging the U.S. government to make Chinese censorship a trade dispute issue.
He says China exports computers and in return should allow unfettered access to international Internet sites, "Part of the deal is that service companies and Internet companies that are so strong and based in the United States, companies like Yahoo and Flicker and Wikipedia and journalism institutions like BBC and other major Internet sites that are blocked should have access to the Chinese market," Kaplan said.
Kaplan says he hopes by using economic pressure, he can achieve what diplomatic pressure could not: to permanently tear down the great firewall of China.