China's government said on Monday that it would take steps to more strictly manage websites in the country, its latest push to set boundaries in the wider Internet.
A draft law posted by one of China's technology regulators said that websites in the country would have to register domain names with local service providers and with the authorities.
It was not clear whether the rule would apply to all websites or only to those hosted on servers in China. Chinese laws can be haphazardly enforced and are usually vague, and because the new rule is only a draft, analysts said they expected the regulator, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, to specify later to whom the law would apply.
If the rule applies to all websites, it will have major implications and will effectively cut China out of the global Internet. By creating a domestic registry for websites, the rule would create a system of censorship in which only websites that have specifically registered with the Chinese government would be reachable from within the country.
Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communications Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said he believed that under the current wording, the law would block foreign websites not registered with China.
“I think the draft mostly tries to address Internet security and the large amount of pornographic websites and other websites that violate Chinese laws,” he said. “Most of those domains are registered abroad. It is not easy to tackle them.”
Other experts, however, said the law would probably apply only to websites hosted in China.
“I think these regulations are about content hosted in China,” said Rogier Creemers, a lecturer on Chinese politics at Oxford University. “It can be that they expand in the future.” He pointed out that if the rules applied to all websites, they would eliminate access overnight to a huge chunk of the Internet.
If the law applies only to sites hosted in China, it would still represent a consolidation of power by Beijing. Forcing registration with Chinese entities is likely to create a new boom in domain-name service registrars. At the moment, Alibaba operates China's primary domain-name service provider, called Wan Wang.
The new rule would also enable the Chinese government to keep closer tabs on the real identities of website operators. It would also help Beijing assemble a registry of important websites if China wants to break away from the global registry that unifies the Internet, Mr. Creemers said.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which said violators of the rule would face fines of 10,000 renminbi to 30,000 renminbi, or about $1,500 to $4,500, will hear comments on the regulation until April 25.