Yes, they can now apparently. 'Foreigners' didn’t used to be able to purchase .cn domain names, but they can now.
We asked Alice of Instra Corporation about this recently, and she informed us that the registration of .cn names is open to both individuals and businesses outside of China.
Business registration number
A scanned copy of the registrant’s business certificate
A scanned copy of the registrant's proof of identity
A scanned copy of their proof of identity
A scanned copy of a signed Letter of Commitment
Trustee services are also provided by some domain registration services in case the requirements listed above cannot be met. Instra describes their trustee service:
"If you cannot provide us above requested documents but would like to register your .cn domains for brand protection, our company can provide the trustee service for you with no extra cost. However, you cannot point, forward, redirect or host the registered domain website in mainland China by using our trustee service."
All registered .cn domains remain on 'Serverhold' status unless the letter of commitment or ICP record is obtained. 'Serverhold' means that the domain will not resolve or be available to the public. Some companies choose to register a domain but leave it on Serverhold status just to protect their brand.
For a website to be hosted in mainland China, an ICP record is required. This can be obtained from http://www.miibeian.gov.cn/state/outPortal/loginPortal.action.
If a website is not hosted in Mainland of China, but it is on a .cn domain, the requested 'Letter of Commitment’ must be submitted. If CNNIC discovers that you are in breach this policy (have not submitted a Letter of Commitment) and host your website within mainland China, the domain name may be suspended.
For other registrars, check CNNIC’s list of accredited overseas registrars.
If you have experience registering a .cn domain name, leave your comments below.