Web Hosting in China: What You Need to Know

ICP Registration

Before deploying any Chinese hosted website or platform, all organizations must first apply for an Internet Content Provider (ICP) registration. ICP registration is administered by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). Enforced at the hosting level, all sites that are hosted in Mainland China — whether personal or for an organization — must obtain ICP registration before their site goes live.

ICP Filing

An ICP Filing, known in Chinese as ‘Bei’An’ is the first level of ICP registration. This license enables the holder to host a website on a server or CDN in Mainland China to distribute information. An example would be a retailer or a university operating a website that produces marketing content but does not provide an online payment gateway.

ICP Commercial License

An ICP Commercial License, known in Chinese as ‘ICP Zheng’, allows online platforms selling goods and services to deploy their website on a hosting server or CDN within Mainland China. An example is a retailer that is marketing and selling directly via an online payment gateway such as Alipay or PayPal.

EDI License

An EDI License is required for web platforms processing online data and transactions. This means marketplaces that have multiple vendors directly selling goods and services on a web platform, as opposed to one vendor selling their products from an e-commerce website. An example would be platforms or marketplaces such as Taobao or Tmall where the platform facilitates transactions between multiple independent vendors and customers. The specific criteria vary across China and will evolve over time but any business in Peer-to-Peer lending or the fast-growing areas of “C2C” (Customer-to-customer) and “O2O” (Online-to-offline) transactions will need an EDI License to operate.

Pre-ICP Requirements

There are specific requirements for certain industries operating in China prior to an ICP application. Organizations involved in online news information services, Internet publications, education, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, culture, radio, film and TV, financial services, call centers or telecommunications, will definitely need to check the requirements which relate to their classification. This typically entails gaining permission from a relevant government agency before applying for ICP registration.

Can I Host Elsewhere?

There are political and social restrictions associated with the ICP framework. Key risk factors that may lead to your site being blocked include having a website with politically sensitive keywords or being hosted on a blocked domain or IP range. Indeed, issues arise if your site or the host you are using become blocked. Without ICP there is no line of communication to have this rectified. There is no middleman or government agency that you can appeal to or ask why you were blocked. Without the knowledge of why you were blocked, the process to renew your presence becomes an administrative nightmare for everyone involved.

Assistance from ICP Vendors

Due to the complexity of ICP, ever-changing requirements and the inability to submit an application in English, most applicants will require some form of assistance. Alibaba Cloud is one of the pre-eminent suppliers of advice and assistance in this area. Not only is Alibaba Cloud China’s #1 public cloud vendor but it is also an official online platform for submitting an ICP application. The platform provides a single Management Console for all aspects of the application and is supported by Alibaba Cloud personal Business Advisers and the ICP Support Team who can assist throughout the process. These can all be accessed through https://www.alibabacloud.com/icp.

Summary

If your business has a registered presence in Mainland China then the ICP Filing and the ICP License are definitely crucial investments in building the business in China. If your business does not have a business entity in China and does not plan to, then the next best option is to use servers hosted in Hong Kong.

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