China has stepped up its policing of Internet usage in the country, temporarily blocking access to LinkedIn, the largest networking site for professionals, as well as searches for the name of the U.S. ambassador.
The networking site went offline on Friday shortly after one user set up a forum discussing the idea of a Jasmine Revolution in China. The reference to the word jasmine is the name some have attached to widespread anti-government protests that have swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries in the Middle East.
Last week, Chinese authorities mobilized tens of thousands of security forces ahead of Internet calls for Jasmine Revolution protests. Rights groups said that at least 80 prominent activists and dissidents were detained or confined to their homes in advance of the demonstrations. The protests drew up to several hundred people in more than a dozen cities.
U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman was spotted at one of the protests in Beijing last Sunday, although the American Embassy said it was a coincidence he was there as he walked through a shopping district with his family. On Friday, searches for his name in Chinese on the popular Internet site Sina Weibo were met with a message saying it was not available because of "laws, regulations and policies."
The U.S.-based LinkedIn company says about one million of its 90 million users are in China. The company says the blockage of its site appears to be "part of a broader effort in China right now" and involved other, unnamed sites as well.
By later Friday, some said they could use the LinkedIn site again.
China routinely blocks access to web sites of foreign news organizations, including VOA, or television coverage of events it considers sensitive. Chinese Internet monitors also are able to selectively block keywords and searches on Internet topics it thinks might foster anti-government sentiment. Coverage of the political turmoil in the Middle East has been limited in China.
Western groups have regularly criticized the Chinese effort to limit outside information from reaching the world's most populous country. In a recent speech, President Hu Jintao emphasized the need to "build a socialist social management system."