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.
设置“行政区域名”34个，适用于我国的各省、自治区、直辖市、特别行政区的组织，分别为：BJ—北京市；SH—上海市；TJ—天津市；CQ—重庆市； HE—河北省；SX—山西省；NM—内蒙古自治区；LN—辽宁省；JL—吉林省；HL—黑龙江省；JS—江苏省；ZJ—浙江省；AH—安徽省；FJ—福建省；JX—江西省；SD—山东省；HA—河南省；HB—湖北省；HN—湖南省；GD—广东省；GX—广西壮族自治区；HI—海南省； SC—四川省；GZ—贵州省；YN—云南省；XZ—西藏自治区；SN—陕西省；GS—甘肃省；QH—青海省；NX—宁夏回族自治区；XJ—新疆维吾尔族自治区；TW—台湾省；HK—香港特别行政区；MO—澳门特别行政区。
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 below.
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.”
It is not an alternative root because there is no “root” being setup. And the ISPs continue to use the same default (IANA) root that ship with BIND.
In a longer comment James elaborates, copying a comment he wrote in another thread on another site, in response to somebody named Dave:
I just posted this on IPer where the news is spreading. I hope everyone calm down.
Just saw this news and find it funny because I just had dinner with Mao Wei and Prof. Qian last night (Mao is the Executive Director of CNNIC). To be exact, they have no idea of the news as they are in Perth right now. But after showing them the news and speaking to them, this is what I gathered.
The focus of the news is actually the launch of .MIL.CN, a new 2LD CNNIC is launching which requires a change in their Article. As a matter of procedure, they announced the revise Article that includes the the policy for the three Chinese TLD for .NET, .COM and .CN (网络，公司，中国). The Chinese TLDs was actually added 3 years ago in 2003. It is hardly news now.
It has been in operation for 3 years now as you can see from http://www.cnnic.net.cn/index/0B/index.htm
In practice, they did not actually use any alternative/parellel root. Instead, when someone registered a domain name like 联想.公司, what they get is 联想.公司.cn and the append of .cn is done automatically by the client resolution.
Dave, hope you can help to clarify this issue. The news is just .MIL.CN.