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China Looks to Master Its Own Domains

By Jay Lyman
Mar 1, 2006 1:43 PM PT

The Chinese government this week indicated it was tired of waiting for the U.S.-controlled International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to come up with Chinese character versions of .com and other top level domains (TLDs), and instead will create the domains on its own.

China Looks to Master Its Own Domains

News of the strategy was a cause of concern among some who argue China will use the specialized domains to tighten its grip on Chinese Internet traffic, and perhaps even wall off the rest of the World Wide Web.

However, China has more to gain from playing by the international and interoperable rules of the Internet, and is likely just posturing to push for non-English characters for its users, industry observers agreed.

China Charging Ahead

The new TLDs, which will be Chinese character versions of .com, .net, and .cn, represent the first use of Asian characters for domain naming, the basis for the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS) and addresses of Web sites.

Chinese officials have reportedly grown impatient for Chinese characters in domain names. The government disclosed few details about the domain-name plan.

With its current booming growth and massive influx onto the Net, China wields more power than many of the world's other regions or markets. The country's latest move is seen by some as a continuation of its complaints last year that ICANN and Internet governance should fall under the United Nations, rather than the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Much in a Name

The Chinese domains also come at a time when Chinese Internet censorship and the role of U.S. companies such as Google, MSN, and Yahoo are at the forefront.

Anti-censorship watchdogs warn the Chinese-produced and controlled domain names may enhance the nation's ability to censor the Internet, and might also prevent workarounds that allow information to flow freely.

There are also concerns over the impact of a Chinese separatist domain strategy on the Internet's existing DNS, which relies on the TLDs to properly route Web traffic.

Best Interests

However, China has the same economic and political motivation as any nation to interconnect to markets and e-commerce via a working, borderless Internet, Gartner analyst Ron Cowles pointed out.

"They're not going to push for a separate Internet because it's not in their interest," he told TechNewsWorld. "At the same time, they're going to want to control it."

International or Illogical?

China may be restrained by its own efforts to connect to the rest of the world, said Frost & Sullivan Senior Analyst Mukul Krishna, who referred to the nation's relationship to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and participation in e-commerce.

Krishna told TechNewsWorld that if the world lets China produce its own sovereign section of the Internet, the nation will, of course, maintain a great deal of control over it. China would be better served, however, by immersing itself in the English-dominant world of business, he said.

"Frankly, the logic of all of [the Chinese domains] does baffle me," Krishna noted.

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