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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

China to investigate online maps that show "wrongful" borders

May 9, 2008

Industry News
May 7, 2008

Now the world's most populous internet community, China often makes
the headlines for its heavy-handed approach towards web censorship.
So the news that the Chinese government is investigating search
engines that are apparently "spying" on the country will come as no
surprise to most.

The Telegraph reports that Min Yiren, China's deputy head of the
State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, has pledged to eliminate
online maps that wrongly display the borders of the People's
Republic, as well as those which could potentially reveal military
secrets. In fact, a total of eight government ministries will be
devoting their resources to the task of examining a range of online
maps to determine whether or not they put China's "territorial
integrity" at risk.

The main offenders, according to Min, are largely China-based sites -
including the country's leading search engine, Baidu, and Sohu.com,
the Official Internet Content Service Sponsor for the Beijing
Olympics this year. However, search giant Google may also be obliged
to adhere to any regulations China passes about its online maps,
although, as the Telegraph states, "... much of [the search engine's]
operations are hosted on Google servers elsewhere, over which the
Chinese authorities have no authority, though they can order them to
be blocked by the so-called 'Great Firewall' of China."

So what exactly could the Chinese be disputing about the depictions
of their online maps? To begin with, there's the issue of Taiwan, an
island China still claims as its own - any depiction of Taiwan as an
independent territory is sure to be met with disapproval from the
Chinese internet police. In addition, satellite images shown on
online maps, like Google Earth or Google Maps, could reveal the
extent of China's military presence in controversial regions like
Tibet, as well as various disputed points along the Chinese-Indian border.

In reality, this crackdown is merely one in a series of measures that
the Chinese authorities have been putting in place over the last few
months. Following the temporary banning of YouTube and Google News in
the wake of the demonstrations in Tibet in March, Min suggested that
there could be as many as 10, 000 online maps of China displaying
"unapproved" geographical borders. According to WebProNews, Min
stated then, "Some websites publish sensitive or confidential
geographical information, which might leak State secrets and threaten
security."

With the Beijing Olympic Games fast approaching, it's clear that
China is trying to play down its military presence and disputed
territories as all international eyes turn towards the country this
summer - especially after the anti-China protests that blighted the
Olympic Torch relay in major cities like London and Paris last month.

However, the actual effect this will have on search engines, and
whether they will be forced to comply with China's directives is
unclear. Home-grown entities like Baidu and Sohu.com might find they
have little choice and if international sites like Google opt to fall
under the hammer, the consequences could resonate globally, as other
countries with historically contended borders - India, Turkey and
Israel, to name just a few - could put pressure on the search giant
to make similar changes.
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