The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the announcement was good news but cited implementation problems.

"China has already violated the new travel guidelines in Tibet and in Sichuan, and has stifled foreign reporters trying to cover the ongoing public health scandal of tainted milk products," Joel Simon, CPJ executive director, said.

"And it is common practice for security personnel to question people who are seen talking with foreign reporters. We also believe these guidelines should be extended to Chinese journalists."

'Better off'

Lucie Morillon, Washington director of Reporters Without Borders, said foreign journalists "are better off today than before these rules were applied. Everything now is a continuation of the rules they got used to this past month ... even if the rules were violated on numerous occasions".

But she also called the move by China "a missed opportunity because the end of the temporary regulations should have been the opportunity to introduce rules granting real freedom of movement, including in Tibet, and freedom to interview people, especially officials, combined with protection for the confidentiality of journalists, communications and sources".

Morillon said: "Another issue is the fate of Chinese journalists and interpreters who are employed by the foreign press, and their situation is very precarious, and in the long run, we would like to see more freedom for Chinese reporters and the end of official censorship."

Reporting controls

China had loosened its decades-old controls on foreign reporters - which included requiring government permission for all interviews and travel - at the beginning of 2007.

The changes were part of the communist country's pledge to increase media freedom, which helped Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics.

The Olympic rules were set to expire at Friday midnight.

China had refused to say earlier whether it would extend the rules past that deadline.

Even under the relaxed rules, foreign journalists and monitoring groups complained that Chinese authorities still harassed and occasionally detained journalists in the run-up to the Olympics.

Official interference

During the games, there were multiple instances - at least 30 cases - of reporting interference, according to the FCCC.

The rules replace regulations on foreign media coverage originally established in 1990, after the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

However, journalists will still not be allowed to travel to the region of Tibet and other restricted areas without getting special permission from local authorities, Liu said.

In addition, China's tight grip over domestic journalists remains unchanged, with all state media remaining under government control. Chinese citizens are also not allowed to work as journalists for foreign media organisations.