Xi Defends China's Great Firewall in Push for `Cybersovereignty'

Updated on
  • Chinese president says each country should police own Internet
  • Speech at technology summit seeks to promote Web model abroad

President Xi Jinping defended China’s strict control of websites, saying it was necessary to keep public order, and urged nations to respect each other’s sovereignty over the Internet.

Countries must not interfere in the internal affairs of others, Xi told a technology gathering Wednesday in Wuzhen, adapting a concept that has long been part of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy. Cyberspace must not become a “battlefield” between states, Xi said, and he called for greater cooperation on punishing cyber-attacks and fighting terrorism.

“We should respect every country’s own choice of their Internet development path and management model, their Internet public policy and the right to participate in managing international cyberspace,” Xi said. “There should be no cyber-hegemony, no interfering in others’ internal affairs, no engaging, supporting or inciting cyber-activities that would harm the national security of other countries.”

China employs one of the world’s most exhaustive Internet censorship regimes to suppress dissidence and other information deemed dangerous by the ruling Communist Party. Social-media postings can be deleted and search terms blocked, and websites including Facebook and Google have withdrawn from the country or been barred from operating.

Tighter Restrictions

The government has increased restrictions since Xi took power three years ago, passing a security law establishing “cybersovereignty,” making the resending of rumors over the Internet a crime and advancing regulations that would let companies in key sectors only use technology deemed “safe and controllable.”

U.S. companies and government officials have long complained about cyber-attacks originating from China, an accusation the leadership denies, saying their own nation has been targeted by hackers. Earlier this month, the nations held talks in Washington after a September summit between Xi and President Barack Obama, during which they agreed their governments wouldn’t conduct economic espionage by hacking the private networks of companies.

Jack Ma at of the 2nd World Internet Conference in Wuzhen
Jack Ma at of the 2nd World Internet Conference in Wuzhen
Photographer: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Xi gave the keynote speech at China’s second World Internet Conference, an event attended by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Chairman Jack Ma, LinkedIn Corp. Chairman Reid Hoffman and executives from Alphabet Inc., Apple Inc. and Xiaomi Corp. Prime ministers Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and Karim Massimov of Kazakhstan, whose nations are members of the regional Shanghai Co-operation Organization, also were there.

Policy Elevation

The Chinese president’s participation was “a clear message that China’s Internet policy is part of social and political control” and an effort to promote that model among less-developed and like-minded countries, said Qiao Mu, a professor of media studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

“Internet policy in China is never an entity in itself or separated from its fundamental political system,” Qiao said. “It’s increasingly become a key component of China’s political governing mechanism.”

The speech was the latest of example of Xi’s efforts to elevate Internet policy to a top-level concern. Last year, he made himself chairman of a new cybersecurity group that has become a clearinghouse for technology policy. In May, he designated China’s Internet elites as a key focus for the ruling party’s outreach, elevating them to a level of strategic importance on par with ethnic minority leaders and Taiwan’s political parties.

At the first such Internet conference gathering last year, efforts to issue a declaration broke down after some from the international technology community balked at language calling on them to “respect Internet sovereignty of all countries” and “widely spread positive energy.”

Order, Ideas

“As long as you obey the Chinese law, we warmly welcome enterprises and entrepreneurs from every other country to invest in China,” he said. “We are willing to strengthen cooperation with others to develop e-commerce, build information economy pilot zones, in an effort to push global digital economic growth.”

While professing support for an exchange of ideas on the Internet, Xi also emphasized the need for order. On Monday, Pu Zhiqiang, a rights lawyer who defended dissidents, was tried on charges of “provoking trouble” and “inciting ethic hatred” in seven social-media postings critical of party policies toward the Uighur minority in the western Xinjiang region. Pu denied the charges.

William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, said the group feared that companies would compromise free-speech principles to gain access to China’s market.

“We want to ring the alarm bells about China’s push to gain greater leverage over the governance of the Internet, to let people know if they comply with China’s laws they will be complicit in human-rights violations,” Nee said.

— With assistance by Ting Shi, and Keith Zhai

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE