This week in China, there is a place where you can tweet to your heart's content, Facebook your friends, or Google a YouTube video.
Beijing normally blocks nationwide access to Western social media and news websites, but it's opening a crack in the Great Firewall just big enough for participants at a technology conference in Wuzhen, China, to squeeze through. The country is hosting the World Internet Conference from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21, where leaders from local Internet giants, including Alibaba and Tencent, will mingle with executives from LinkedIn, SoftBank and other global tech companies.
This temporary opening of the gates doesn't mean China is having second thoughts about Web censorship. Not in the least. China often lifts its controls on the Web for attendees of high-profile international forums, as it did for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing earlier this month. The Internet service in the media center at APEC allowed access to nationally banned sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Outside of the confines of this week's Internet conference, China escalated its filtering of Web content. Censors began targeting sites funneled through Verizon Communications' EdgeCast network. Verizon wrote in a blog post on Nov. 17 that domains were affected or partially blocked "with no rhyme or reason as to why." China's blocks are a source of frustration for "the whole content delivery and hosting industry," the company wrote.
"This should make for some uncomfy moments at the conference," says Charlie Smith, founder of anti-censorship advocacy group Greatfire.org who uses a pseudonym for fear of reprisals by Chinese authorities. "It hardly seems appropriate as well that China wants a say in how the global Internet is run."
China is hosting the summit in Wuzhen to "give a panoramic view for the first time of the concept of the development of China's Internet and its achievements," according to Lu Wei, the minister of the country's new Cyberspace Administration, the regulator that's staging the event.
Surely, officials must recognize that it would be absurd for something called the World Internet Conference to have online content restrictions imposed by one country. China wants to establish a "great power" relationship with the U.S. on Internet governance, and Beijing will be increasingly vocal in attempting to shape global development, says Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China, a Beijing-based consultant to technology companies.
"It's remarkable that the Internet even took hold in China, given the traditions of control and regulation," Clark says. "They are signaling their intent to be a respected actor at the top table, although this will be resisted given the culture gap over freedom of speech."
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Edmond Lococo in Beijing at firstname.lastname@example.org