Sina.com is one of the biggest Chinese-language portals on the Web, with 16 million registered users. The publicly held company, headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., operates four localized Web sites — targeting users in China, North America, Hong Kong and Taiwan — that offer news, financial information, e-mail and other services. Hurst Lin, vice president of business development at Sina, recently spoke with International Editor Juliana Gruenwald about the company — and what it is like to work in the shadow of the Chinese government.
You say you worked with the Chinese government to help grow the Internet in China, which raises the question of how much control, if any, the Chinese government has over content on your site. Should users be concerned that content is filtered by the Chinese government?
The way we operate is that we leave the local editorial staff full authority to decide what content gets on each of our four sites. The four sites run different content. Obviously, the content that we show in Taiwan may or may not be suitable for mainland China, and vice versa.
In regard to mainland China, the first rule we take is we only work with state-sponsored media. They supply content to us. They have already gotten clearance from the government, as a rule. . . . We kind of aggregate content from major media suppliers. In that case, we actually do not have any — how shall I say — any censorship issues, because the content has already been cleared. . . .
In general, China is not that concerned with reporting on entertainment, on technology news — any kind of soft content. What [the] China government is sensitive about is issues regarding Taiwanese independence, Falun Gong — some of these types of issues. . . . For those, I think there is a general understanding in the media space in China that they will have to treat those subjects gingerly.
So you dont think your relationship with the government hinders you at all?
No. . . . The usage pattern is very similar to the U.S. . . . You get a lot of folks getting on the Web and using it to get all kinds of various information, and only a fraction of it is about what President [George] Bush is about to do with education policy. Most of it is about: OK, Im looking for a car, and Im not sure what is good and bad. In China, its probably not a car. Its probably smaller-ticket items.
The Chinese government announced plans to build a second-generation Internet — a new and improved Internet. Do you have any thoughts about whether thats a good or a bad thing?
I think its a good thing. Youve got to remember: There are 1.2 billion people in China. So the most recent announcement from mainland China is [that there are] about only 22 million users in mainland China. That is still a small, small, tiny percentage of the overall population in China. . . . Access fees are still a little more expensive than the average Chinese citizen can afford, so anything the government can do to reduce the access fees would help in increasing the number of users getting on the Web.