BEIJING (AP) China has closed down 1,250 Web sites in its latest crackdown on online pornography but still faces an uphill task in regulating the unwieldy Internet for vulgar content, an official said Friday. Liu Zhengrong, deputy director of the Cabinet's Internet Affairs Bureau, said authorities have also arrested 41 people in the monthlong campaign that began Jan.
5. "We have made apparent achievements but it's only for this phase," Liu told reporters.
"We still have a lot of work to do." Earlier this month, authorities warned Google, Baidu, Sina and Sohu China's most heavily used sites that they had to do more to block pornographic material from reaching Chinese users.
The moves are part of a continuing government campaign against using the Internet to access pornography, which is banned in China. However, it remains widely available off and on the Internet, where popular Web portals frequently show sexually explicit pictures and provide links to pornographic sites.
China's population of Internet users is expanding at explosive rates and has risen to 298 million after passing the United States last year to become the world's largest. On average, there are 240,000 new Chinese users and 3,000 new sites daily, Liu said.
"Our biggest challenge is that the Internet is still growing," he said. "We are facing a long-term, complex and huge task.
" While the current crackdown is focused on lewd material, it is part of a larger effort to control freedom of expression and root out material the leadership considers socially destabilizing, such as sites that criticize the Communist Party, promote democratic reform or advocate Taiwan independence. When asked if there would also be more stringent monitoring of sensitive topics like this year's 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, Liu did not answer directly but said there was "clear, legal provision about what kind of information should not be provided on the Internet.
" Authorities loosened some media and Internet controls during last year's Beijing Olympics gestures that were meant to show the international community that the games had brought greater freedom to the Chinese people. But since then, The New York Times Web site, along with the Chinese-language sites of foreign media including the British Broadcasting Corp.
and Voice of America are among the sites that have been intermittently blocked. Hong Kong-based media Ming Pao and Asiaweek have also been affected.