Did China Create Its Own Domain Names?

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China's Ministry of Information Industry has established a set of new top-level and second-level domain names, according to People's Daily Online, the Web site of the official People's Daily newspaper.

The new domain name system took effect today, according to the report. However, ICANN said today that the report that China's government has established its own Internet top-level domain names is untrue.

Background

People's Daily Online reported Tuesday that the country's Ministry of Information Industry (MII) had changed China's domain name system effective Wednesday, adding new top-level domains of ".com," ".net," and ".china" in Chinese characters, among other things.

"It means Internet users don't have to surf the Web via the servers under the management of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) of the United States," the report said.

After the report was published, ICANN officials contacted the Chinese Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), which oversees the country's .cn top-level domain, and were told there are no new Chinese top-level domains. The report may have resulted from a misunderstanding of work already in progress that involves second-level domains, according to Tina Dam, ICANN's chief generic top-level domain registry liaison.

'New' Domain Name List

The news report said that the MII temporarily set up Chinese versions of three existing top-level domain names: ".cn," ".com," and ".net." China's top-level domain established through ICANN is ".cn" in Roman characters.

Top-level domain names are the codes at the end of Web addresses, which include identifiers such as .com and .net but also country codes such as China's .cn. All top-level domains today are in Roman characters, but ICANN has been working toward providing top-level domain in different character sets, including Chinese, ICANN's Dam said. CNNIC is involved in that work, she added. So far technology has been developed for second-level domains in other character sets, but not for top-level domains. A program for a top-level domain experiment is being developed now, she said.

Also, the MII added two kinds of second-level domain names to the Romanized ".cn" top-level domain, according to the People's Daily report. One set of second-level domains will cover categories of institutions: ".ac" for research entities, ".edu" for educational institutions, ".gov" for government departments, and ".mil" for defense departments, according to People's Daily Online.

The other set of second-level domain names were for China's provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the central government, and special administrative regions. In most cases they would be derived from Romanized spellings of the localities, such as ".bj" for Beijing and ".sh" for Shanghai, the report said. ICANN did not ask CNNIC about the reported new second-level domains, Dam said. Administrators of country top-level domains are free to create new second-level domains under them, she added.

Misunderstanding?

Some domain names are already available that appear to end in a Chinese-character top-level domain, but they are still under .cn even though that part of the address doesn't appear in the browser, Dam said. This is accomplished by using a browser plug-in, she said. The People's Daily Online article may have resulted from a misunderstanding of those domain names, she said.

CNNIC told ICANN representatives that all its work has involved second-level domains, according to Dam. ICANN has not contacted MII on the issue, she said.

ICANN, which oversees the Domain Name System at the heart of the Internet's operation, is an independent organization but is based in Marina Del Rey, California, and has close ties to the U.S. government. It has been at the center of a recent heated debate over control of the Internet. Representatives of China and other countries have voiced concerns about disproportionate U.S. power over the Internet.

"It's not news that there's at least a faction of the Chinese government that is concerned about this," said John Klensin, an independent consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was a pioneer in Internet software and has recently worked on internationalization projects. "Whether that faction is representative of the government is a matter of intense speculation, and I don't think anyone outside of China really knows," he said.

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