The Chinese government is planning a nationwide probe of all internet services, software, and hardware that might be considered a threat to national security, according to draft plans published this week.
But online freedom of speech activists said the aim of the review is likely to further strengthen the ruling Chinese Communist Party's control over what citizens can see online ahead of a top-level meeting later in the year.
According to draft plans issued on Feb. 4 for public consultation by the China National Internet Information Office and other government agencies, the review will look at security vulnerabilities that could allow "illegal control, interference, and interruption" of online products and services.
It will also seek to identify risks at the R&D stage, the delivery stage,and in technical support services.
But the mandate for the plan also covers any other risks "that could endanger national security or the public interest," the draft plans said.
The government will focus on "important online products and services ... and their providers," requiring companies to show their "commitment" to national security and carrying out government supervision including lab tests, inspections, online monitoring, and vetting procedures, according to the plans.
The Chinese Communist Party and all government departments will then be required to drop any suppliers of internet-related products and services that fail the review process, the plans said.
This could mean that products and services sourced overseas will be required to undergo extensive inspections and vetting procedures, or face being dropped, media reports indicated.
National security concerns
The Beijing News quoted information security expert Zuo Xiaodong as saying that China is particularly concerned about the role imported technology could play in its security vulnerabilities.
"At the moment it relies on the best technology from overseas, because it hasn't broken into the core technology market yet," the paper quoted Zuo as saying. "That's why they have to ensure it is secure."
The review forms part of the government's implementation of the draconian Cybersecurity Law, which was passed into law last November, and will likely take effect from June 1.
But online activist Wu Bin said that national security is a euphemism for the stability of Communist Party rule, and that the new measures will simply enable greater state control of its own citizens.
"They aren't bringing this out now because they see a potential cybersecurity threat. It's because they see a potential threat to their regime," Wu said.
"It's all about stability maintenance, and things are going to be ever more tightly controlled in future," he said. "It's [a coup], like in the days of [Xin dynasty founder] Wang Mang."
"Ordinary citizens won't know what's hit them; it will be so easy to break the law," he said.
Nanjing resident Zhang Haoqi agreed.
"The direction in which they are headed has been clear for a very long time now, it's just that now they are stepping up the intensity of their strategic thinking," Zhang said.
"There's no doubt about it: their control over the internet is going to get tighter and tighter."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.