China blocks New York Times Web site

Censorship allowed if sites break law, foreign ministry says

BANGKOK -- Western and Hong Kong news Web sites, including that of the New York Times, experienced censorship at the hands of the Chinese government last week in an apparent reversal of the open-media policy widely touted in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics.

The censorship, stemming from a reference to Taiwan, echoes past moves that experts say happen most often during times of economic or political tension.

Last week, Beijing reminded foreign news organizations that reference to Taiwan as a sovereign nation is a no-no.

Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that Chinese law allows the censorship of Web sites that break the rules. Beijing has considered Taiwan a renegade province since the island split off and became self-governing in 1949.

"I hope that the Web sites in question will be able to self-regulate, and not do things that will violate Chinese law and, for the sake of both sides, develop conditions for Web site cooperation," Liu said in a statement on the Foreign Ministry's Web site posted Dec. 16.

The statement followed a Dec. 15 New York Times article about the first direct airplane flight between China and Taiwan since the end of the civil war between the Communists and Nationalists 59 years ago. In the article, the Times referred to Taipei as the Taiwanese capital.

The online censorship of the Times Web site -- experienced most widely on Friday -- began in early December for other news Web sites, such as those of the BBC, Voice of America and the Hong Kong-based publications Ming Pao and Asiaweek.

As of Monday, the Times Web site was accessible again from average computers inside China not using a virtual private network.

The site had not been blocked "for a very long time," one insider at the newspaper in Beijing told The Hollywood Reporter. "So, we're surprised."