Party line rules in cyberspace
Mark O'Neill in Beijing
Departments of the mainland government have more than 2,400 sites on the Internet, but many are never updated and offer the public no opportunity for dialogue.
Last year, Beijing urged official bodies to rise to the challenge of the Internet by setting up their own Web sites and putting information on it.
So far, 52 ministries and bureaus under the central government and more than 2,400 city and provincial governments and other arms of the world's largest bureaucracy, accounting for 60 per cent of all state units, have set up sites and have become the largest provider of Chinese-language material on the Net, according to the China News weekly.
Most of the information on the sites is law, regulations, policies and documents issued by the departments. But most sites are not updated, so that those who visit them cannot obtain the latest information. One reason is laziness, another is concern about secrecy.
A second problem is that, in the virtual as in the real world, the departments are not interested in the views of the public.
Few sites offer an interactive function, through which users can ask questions of the officials and offer their own opinions. As a result of these two factors, the utilisation rate of most government sites is very low.
The Bureau of Internal Trade, for example, spent eight million yuan, 75 per cent a loan from the Japanese Government, to set up its Web site, but it does not have the money to maintain and update the site. As a result, only senior officials of the bureau, which has 200,000 employees, have access to the site.
There are exceptions. The site for the government of Qingdao carries information in Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean and has about 600,000 visitors to the site each day. It does frequent updates and has a 'mayor's letterbox', to which users are encouraged to write their opinions. It has received about 3,500 e-mails over the past year, of which 300 have proved useful to the city.