Asia Pacific

Xi defends China's web controls in call for 'Internet sovereignty of all countries'

Bloomberg

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged world leaders to respect each country’s sovereignty over its own Internet as he sought broader support for strict controls like China’s on Wednesday.

The international community must respect each country’s internal affairs, Xi told a global technology gathering Wednesday in Wuzhen, eastern China, applying to the Internet a concept that long has been a part of the Communist Party’s foreign policy. He also said cyberspace must not become a “battlefield” between states and called for greater cooperation on punishing cyberattacks and fighting terrorism.

“There should be no double standards in safeguarding Internet security,” Xi said. “A country should not harm another’s security for the sake of its own security. Some countries should not seek security at the expense of others, let alone sacrifice others’ security to seek absolute security.”

China employs one of the world’s most exhaustive Internet censorship regimes to suppress dissident and other information deemed dangerous by the ruling Communist Party. Posts are deleted, search terms are blocked and foreign sites such as Facebook and Google have withdrawn or been barred from operating.

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

Xi was providing 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., Xiaomi Corp. and others.

At the first such 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.”

In February 2014, Xi made himself chairman of a new cybersecurity group that has become a central clearinghouse for technology policy. This past May, Xi for the first time designated China’s Internet elites as a key focus for the ruling party’s outreach, elevating them to a level of strategic importance on a par with ethnic minority leaders or Taiwan’s political parties.

Xi said the country is open to foreign investment as long as companies follow China’s rules. “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.”

U.S. companies and government officials have long complained of cyberattacks originating out of China — an accusation that officials in Beijing have denied, saying they too have been the targets of hacking. Earlier this month, the two sides held top-level talks in Washington as a follow-up to a September summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Xi, in which they agreed their governments wouldn’t conduct economic espionage through hacking the private networks of companies.