This morning I got a bunch of alarmist messages from friends asking about this English-language People's Daily article titled: China adds top-level domain names. The paragraph that's freaking people out is:
Under the new system, besides "CN", three Chinese TLD names "CN", "COM" and "NET" are temporarily set. It means Internet users don't have to surf the Web via the servers under the management of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) of the United States.
Not for the first time, it appears that the People's Daily's English translation is very misleading.
Here is a Chinese language story on the subject, and here is the original announcement in Chinese on the Ministry of Information Industry website. Below are the two most important sections, which I am translating/explaining in English (please post corrections in the comments section if you read Chinese and think I got anything wrong):
2. "In China's internet domain name system, aside from the "CN" top-level domains, there will be three Chinese language top-level domains: 中国 (which means "China"), 公司 (which means "company"), AND 网络 (which means "net")."
In other words, China is NOT, I repeat NOT creating alternative .COM and .NET top-level domains that would be separate from those now administered by ICANN. (Though it is true that CN, 中国, 公司, AND 网络 will not be administered by ICANN, but by a Chinese entity.)
3. "Beneath the CN top-level domain, there will be 2 kinds of sub-domains: topical categories and administrative regions. There will be 7 "topical domains": AC for research institutions; COM for commercial; EDU for educational institutions; and GOV for China's government organizations, MIL for Chinese national-defense organizations; NET for organizations providing internet services; and ORG for non-commercial organizations."
Note that these are sub-domains, not top-level domains. So in other words, the websites will look like this: http://website.ac.cn, http://website.com.cn, website.edu.cn, website.gov.cn, website.mil.cn. website.net.cn and website.org.cn.
This section outlines the English letters used for administrative region domains. So Beijing will be website.bj.cn, Shanghai will be website.sh.cn, Tianjin will be website.tj.cn, and so forth.
A more accurate Interfax story is here. So my understanding is this: China will administer the 4 top-level domains of: CN, 中国, 公司, AND 网络 — and all their sub-domains — independently of ICANN. China has not shut out the global internet, or created parallel evil twins of our well-loved and well-used top-level domains. What China has done is create its own Chinese sub-internet adjacent to the global one run by ICANN. This is precedent-setting. Will other governments follow? An Iranian-administered set of top level domains in Farsi? A Russian-administered set of TLD's in Russian? Why not?
But to my knowledge, if you can read and write Chinese and have the ability to enter Chinese characters on your computer, you should be able to access those domains from anywhere, and the creation of this new Chinese sub-internet does not preclude Chinese internet users from typing in their usual .com and .net domains and getting at the same sites that we would from the U.S. — that is unless the Chinese government happens to be filtering those particular sites that you want to access. UPDATE: This is not entirely correct, as Steven Murdoch explains.
Will the existence of a Chinese-administered sub-internet make it easier for the Chinese government to filter the international internet more aggressively? Once the new Chinese domain system becomes well-populated and full of content, it seems likely that the answer would be "yes."
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