From March onwards, foreign firms will not be permitted to publish their 'creative' content online in China without prior approval of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, media reported yesterday.

The new measure also empowers local governments to monitor the publications of these companies.

According to experts in Hong Kong – which enjoys a greater freedom of the press than the mainland, the measure is a further attempt by Beijing to control the internet.

An earlier law dating back to 2002 allowed foreign firms to publish creative content directly on the internet. During the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, in Zhejiang last year, President Xi Jinping had called for greater 'order' in the management of the internet.

China, with a strong censorship system known as the Great Firewall, has imposed more restrictions on the internet since Xi assumed power three years ago, and approved a controversial national cyber security law that, for the first time, speaks of protecting 'cyber sovereignty'.