Net cafe crackdown leads to more unlicensed outlets
MICHAEL JEN-SIU in Beijing
The continuing ban on Internet cafes in Beijing has pushed some of the popular and profitable outlets underground and spread suspicion the government wants to keep them closed for reasons unrelated to Sars.
Since the cafes closed on April 27 - along with cinemas, discos and massage parlours - a number have resumed business in secret.
Police had caught some operators, said a games distributor who frequents Internet cafes.
Internet cafes have opened elsewhere on the mainland, including Sichuan province and Shanghai, but the 400 to 500 licensed outlets in Beijing have not been told when they will be allowed to resume business.
Owners of the cafes say their premises have not been inspected for ventilation or numbers of customers - the two factors that city officials say led to the closure. This uncertainty has led to rumours that the city wants to put small-time operators out of business and turn internet cafes into nationwide chains.
'One factor is Sars, the other is... there are too many other negative impacts,' said Deng Deyuan, manager of Internet-Coffee, an Internet cafe. She said her customers had switched to using internet cafes which had reopened illegally.
Chen Zhong, manager of the Fanhong Internet cafe in Beijing's Xidan shopping district, said he went out of business because connection fees and rent became unmanageable without customers' revenue. Mr Chen said he was also tired of government interference.
Only cafes that could meet fire safety codes and newer, stricter cultural requirements were allowed to reopen.
Mr Chen said he had seen illegal Internet cafes spring up, including one hidden near the rest rooms in an office block in Xicheng district.
Kay Zhang, Internet cafe liaison officer for the online game company Moxze, said: 'Some bars opened secretly several days ago, but were all severely punished and their business licences were cancelled. They disobeyed the regulations. Now I think no one wants to run this risk.'
A city spokesman said inspectors were trying to find out how Internet cafes and other entertainment venues could prevent the spread of infectious diseases on their premises. He said there was no target reopening date.
In May, city propaganda chief Cai Fuchao said the Sars infection risk in Internet cafes was high because customers sat close together without moving.
The wave of cafe closures comes as the city and central governments push for chain store-style management, which would allow easier supervision.
The government has authorised 10 companies, some with state financial backing, to open multiple cafes.
Cultural authorities and police have long blamed Internet cafes for promoting teenage delinquency and access to anti-China Web sites.