China Stands by Web Filter Program Despite Protests

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China said its deadline for Web filtering software to be distributed with PCs had not changed on Tuesday, despite growing protests from the U.S. government and Chinese Internet users.

Foreign and domestic PC makers are still required to ship the filter program with all PCs sold in China beginning July 1, the state-run China Daily said, citing an unnamed source in the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

China first issued the mandate last month and has said the software is meant to protect children from pornographic and other "harmful" content online. But the program, called Green Dam Youth Escort, also blocks political content including Web sites that mention Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned as a cult in China.

The mandate could escalate into a serious trade dispute if China actually bars foreign PC makers from selling computers without the software, said Simon Ye, a Gartner analyst. State media last week cited an unnamed official saying foreign PC makers like Dell might not be able to meet the deadline.

Some kind of compromise is much more likely before the deadline, said Ye. Barring sales by a company like Dell would disrupt China's PC market and could trigger protectionist responses by the U.S., he said.

Hewlett-Packard and Dell were the second- and third-largest PC vendors in China in the final quarter last year, claiming over one-fifth of PC shipments in the country, according to IDC statistics.

Dell is still reviewing the government mandate, a company spokeswoman said, declining to comment further.

Resistance to China's mandate has grown in the weeks since it became public. Representatives from multiple U.S. government offices met with Chinese officials last Friday to express concerns about the requirement to ship the software, said Susan Stevenson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Embassy officials representing the State Department, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Commerce Department met with officials at China's MIIT and commerce ministry, she said.

The U.S. has asked China for a dialogue about the potential impact of the mandate on trade, effects on the free flow of information and "serious technical issues" raised by use of the software, Stevenson said.

Chinese Internet users have also mounted resistance to the mandate. Ai Weiwei, a well-known artist and dissident, was using Twitter messages on Tuesday to call for an Internet boycott the day of the government deadline. Ai urged Internet users not to go online on July 1 for work, email, news or other purposes.

"Do not give any explanation of your actions," Ai wrote in his Twitter feed. "Make July 1 a day of commemoration for the Internet."

Calls to China's MIIT went unanswered Tuesday morning.

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