The Chinese government apparently blocked access to the popular YouTube video sharing site earlier this week, the Reuters news agency reports.

YouTube availability was described as having been ‘spotty’ since early March. The Chinese government has been cracking down hard on foreign Web sites and domestic bloggers who, in its opinion, post ‘harmful’ information.

Nevertheless, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told western reporters that his government is not afraid of the Internet.

“Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the Internet. In fact it is just the opposite. … China’s Internet is open enough but also needs to be regulated by law in order to prevent the spread of harmful information and for national security.”

The Chinese government crackdown on dissident bloggers and other ‘harmful’ information sources started in earnest back in January. Hundreds of Web sites have either been blocked or, in the case of domestic sites, shut down by security police.

Observers say the Chinese government is attempting to silence disssent in a year which will include several sensitive anniversaries, including the 20th aniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest.

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