Wang Huning at World Internet Conference

Internet in China is becoming “more and more open” says President Xi

Image credit: Reuters/Aly Song

At the World Internet Conference in China, President of China Xi Jinping has promoted “internet sovereignty” as the way forward for cyberspace, while arguing that the Chinese internet is open to the rest of the world.

The World Internet Conference has been a high-profile forum for Beijing to promote its internet sovereignty (or “cyber sovereignty”) agenda. It is organised by the country’s internet regulator: the Cyberspace Administration of China.

The concept of internet sovereignty is that every country has the power to govern the internet in that country as it wishes. In China for instance, access to international websites, including Google, Facebook and YouTube, is highly restricted. This is in sharp contrast to the Silicon Valley model of an open and free internet.

This year, greater restrictions have been placed on internet use in the country, with a clampdown on virtual private networks – which can be used to access banned websites – and new regulations requiring foreign companies to store user information within the country and submit to data surveillance.

This has resulted in the yearly Freedom of the Net report, composed by US think tank, Freedom House, placing China at the bottom of its internet freedom rankings. This condemnation was rejected by the Cyberspace Administration of China, its vice-minister Ren Xianliang stating that the internet must be “orderly”.

According to a speech by Wang Huning, an influential policymaker who sits on China’s Politburo Standing Committee, China is preparing to help other countries develop their own cyber sovereignty.

“China stands ready to develop new rules and systems of internet governance to serve all parties and counteract current imbalances,” said Wang.

“What we propose is we should promote a controllable security and build a new order. Cybersecurity is a serious challenge. [Cybercrime] and cyber terrorism has grown more rampant,” he said. “The world’s destiny has become more intertwined in cyberspace.”

Despite a strong defence of domestic internet censorship, at this year’s conference, delegates also discussed creating a more “open” internet in the future.

In a letter read aloud at the conference, President Xi said that: “The development of China’s cyberspace is entering a fast lane […] China’s doors will only become more and more open.”

He repeated his previous message that China hoped that it could work with the rest of the world to respect internet sovereignty, and that the country would with international partners to advance development and security.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, at World Internet Conference

Reuters/Aly Song

Image credit: Reuters/Aly Song

Attendees at the conference include Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, and Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. On Sunday, Cook informed the conference in a keynote address that there are nearly 1.8 million Chinese developers using Apple’s App Store have earned nearly $17bn: a quarter of total App Store revenue.

“The theme of this conference – developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits – is a vision we at Apple share. We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace,” Cook said.

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