The head of the global Internet addressing authority will visit China this week, according to people briefed on the matter, highlighting questions about China's web censorship after it applied to offer domain names that end with Chinese characters.
Rod Beckstrom, CEO of the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), will visit China for two days starting Tuesday in his first trip to the country since taking his current job in June last year, according to one of the people. His agenda is expected to include talks on the country's application to his organization for the globally supported use of domain names that end in "dot-China" with the word "China" written in Chinese script, the person said.
China's censorship of the Internet has drawn global attention since Google said in January that it planned to stop censoring results on its China-based search engine. China has gradually tightened the screws on online expression for over a year with measures including a ban on individuals in the country registering domain names. Registrars outside of China have been blocked from offering any domain names ending in .cn, the country suffix for China.
China is one of over a dozen countries and territories that have applied for the local-language domains since ICANN, which oversees the domain name system (DNS) so that domain names like idg.com route users to the right destinations, launched the process late last year. China has strongly backed the use of local-language domain names, but its application was not among the first to pass an initial review by ICANN, which said in recent weeks that four countries, including Russia and Egypt, had completed that step.
That may not mean China's application, submitted by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), has hit any political problems. There also may be no direct link between Beckstrom's visit and China's Internet clampdown, which authorities say is focused largely on pornography.
Chinese government crackdowns "are coming from higher levels and CNNIC is as much an object of tighter regulations as, say, Google or the content providers," said Milton Mueller, a professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies, in an e-mail.
No one at ICANN was immediately available to comment. An ICANN representative last month declined to comment on the status of China's application.
But larger questions remain about the authority China will have over the Chinese-language Internet as it grows beyond the country's borders. Besides domains ending with the Chinese characters for "China," others using the language are already supported inside the country, such as "dot-company" in Chinese. It could threaten the control of China's authorities over the Chinese-language Internet if, one day, organizations outside of the country were allowed to run some of those domains, said Rebecca MacKinnon, a visiting fellow at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy.
"Therefore, I think we can expect the Chinese government and CNNIC to fight for [a] maximum amount of control over the Chinese-language DNS," she said.