A powerful arm of China’s government said Wednesday that it had created a new central agency to regulate every corner of the nation’s vast Internet community, a move that appeared to complement a continuing crackdown on political dissidents and other social critics. But the vaguely worded announcement left unclear whether the new agency, the State Internet Information Office, would in fact supersede a welter of ministries and government offices that already claim jurisdiction over parts of cyberspace.
China’s State Council Information Office said it was transferring its own staff of Internet regulators to the new agency, which would operate under its jurisdiction. Among many other duties, the agency would direct “online content management,” supervise online gaming, video and publications; promote major news Web sites; and oversee online government propaganda. The agency would also have authority to investigate and punish violators of online content rules, and it would oversee the huge telecommunications companies that provide access for Internet users and content providers alike. The Information Office is a unit of China’s State Council, a cabinetlike agency that effectively manages the government’s day-to-day operations. Two former Information Office officials would run the new agency, and executives from two key ministries — public security and information technology — would also serve in senior positions, the announcement stated.
The mushrooming growth of China’s Internet business has spawned a sort of land rush for regulatory turf by government agencies that see in it a chance to gain more authority or more money, or both. At least 14 government units, from the culture and information technology ministries to offices that oversee films and books, have some hand in what appears on China’s Internet. Others have interests in Internet-related ventures like the sale of censorship software that could prove to be lucrative sources of income.