The government of China will accept agreements delivered via instant messaging or email as legally binding, according to new rules announced this month.
China has more than 140 million internet users, approximately 80 per cent of whom use instant messaging software to communicate, the China Internet Network Information Center reported.
Under new Ministry of Commerce regulations online buyers and sellers can now discuss the details of a transaction through email and instant messaging, and make formal agreements online.
However, the regulations strongly recommend that people keep a record of online agreements, preferably in printed form. The regulations do not appear to have clear guidance for cases in which there is no printed record.
China has also attempted to regulate the use of 'virtual currencies' online. According to some commentators, the new rules effectively amount to an outright ban.
"Virtual exchanges and e-commerce real-goods trading have to be strictly differentiated," the Ministry of Commerce announced at the beginning of March.
Fudan University professor Dai Weihui estimated that China saw more than $1bn worth of virtual money transactions last year, representing nearly three per cent of all consumer spending.
Shoppers who buy products with virtual cash on Taobao.com, China's most popular consumer-to-consumer online auction site, spend more than $60,000 a day, according to China's official Xinhua state news agency.
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