China just tightened its control over online publishing with a restrictive set of rules that would shut down foreign outlets and foreign gaming companies -- if they're enforced as written. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has released a restrictive set of regulations, set to go into effect next month. As Ars Technica reports, the new rules require all servers and storage for running online publications be housed in China. In addition to requiring Chinese outlets to submit content for approval and self-censor, the rules appear to ban foreign publishing and joint publishing outright:
Regulation 10 of the new rules, due to come into force on March 10, specifies: "Sino-foreign joint ventures, Sino-foreign cooperative ventures and foreign business units must not engage in network publishing services."
Many major US news outlets, from the New York Times to Bloomberg, have built up bureaus in China, and these regulations could set back all foreign companies attempting to publish in China.
The big question is: Will the new rules be enforced?
According to a Shanghai-based IP lawyer interviewed by Quartz, the body which issued the rules may not have as much control over internet policy as it appears:
While the new rules sound draconian, how effective it may be at shutting foreign companies out of China's internet entirely remains questionable, You Yunting, an IP lawyer and partner at Shanghai's Debund Law Offices, told Quartz. The State Internet Information Office, under "internet czar" Lu Wei, is actually in charge of internet policy in China, he points out, but these rules were put out by the technology ministry and SARFT. "Websites don't even belong to their management," he said. Lu has been reaching out to foreign internet giants, including a high-powered meeting in Seattle last September.
When Quartz attempted to ask the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology from Hong Kong directly for clarification, things didn't go so well:
Quartz contacted the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology from Hong Kong asking for further clarification on how the rules would work, but the ministry said it could only reply to faxed questions that came from a reporter with a mainland press card.
While the rules may not end up squeezing out foreign publications entirely, they speak to the Chinese government's continued interest in tightly controlling what goes online. For companies like Facebook, desperate to find footing (and millions of new users), this is certainly bad news. And for the Chinese people, who were beginning to see the positive effects of more openness, this could be a step back towards darkness.