China's President Calls For More Borders, State Control in Cyberspace

2015-12-16
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Xi Jinping gives a speech at the Internet conference in Wuzhen, China, Dec. 16, 2015.
Xi Jinping gives a speech at the Internet conference in Wuzhen, China, Dec. 16, 2015.
AFP

Chinese Internet users on Wednesday hit out at a "global" Internet conference hosted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, as their president Xi Jinping called for more control by governments over cyberspace.

"Freedom and order are both necessary in cyberspace," Xi told the conference in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

"Cyberspace should not become a battlefield for countries to wrestle with one another, nor should it become a hotbed for crime," the official Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

Xi called for an Internet with national borders, analogous to the concept of national sovereignty enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

"Sovereignty ... is one of the basic norms in contemporary international relations," Xi said. "It covers all aspects of state-to-state relations, which also includes cyberspace."

China already extends tight control over what its netizens may see online, via a complex system of blocks, filters, and human censorship known collectively as the Great Firewall.

Now, Xi appears to be arguing that Beijing's censorship model of Internet governance should extend its influence far beyond its physical borders.

"We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber development and model of cyber regulation and participate in international cyberspace governance on an equal footing," he said in the keynote speech to the conference.

'Tell some truths'


Henan activist Qin Zhao said she had evaded arrest in her hometown to travel to Wuzhen, where the conference is taking place, to register her complaint at the banning of overseas social media sites to regular Chinese netizens.

"I heard that President Xi has a Facebook account, but we aren't even allowed to open one," Qin said, en route to Wuzhen. "I am hoping to find out why that is."

She said the Great Firewall had been temporarily suspended in Wuzhen for the duration of the conference.

"I want to experience that, because there's a whole lot out there on the Internet that we normally can't see," Qin said.

"I also want to take the opportunity to tell some truths online about how the government has caused huge numbers of complaints with its land grabs and its forced evictions, and how they detained me," she said.

Political event


Meanwhile, Beijing resident Li Wei said the conference is far removed from the concerns of most Chinese netizens.

"I am extremely interested in the Internet, but I don't think that this event has anything to do with me," Li said. "It's just a political event for the highest-ranking leaders."

"It's just a move in their diplomatic game," he said.

Li cited the trial on Monday of top human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang for "incitement to ethnic hatred" on the basis of seven tweets.

"A lot of people had their [social media] accounts shut down around that time, just canceled, and all of their tweets deleted," Li said.

"So a conference of this kind has absolutely nothing to do with ordinary people."

He said the conference was only attended by two countries out of the G20, while most were developing countries.

"What have they come for? Are they hoping that China will give them money or aid?" he said.

Temporary freedom

Beijing-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said the temporary freedom granted to Wuzhen for the duration of the conference was ridiculous.

"A lot of people have been drawn to Wuzhen, because they have turned it into a special zone," Huang said. "Normally, you can only read stuff beyond the Great Firewall by using circumvention tools."

"This is a joke."

He said no discussion of Internet policy would be complete without addressing the question of how to protect people's basic human rights.

Meanwhile, veteran Hangzhou-based dissident Chen Kaipin said he had been under surveillance by state security police since Sunday.

"It's all because of this Wuzhen Internet conference," Chen told RFA on Wednesday. "I am now being watched ... It started three days ahead of time."

"[The police] take me out to do stuff, and take me to dinner."

Tightened security


Wang Qunlan, a rights activist from Huzhou city, said many people were under threat of surveillance or house arrest because of the conference.

"If you plan to go there, they will put you under house arrest, although there aren't so many people going there because of the huge crackdown that is on at the moment," Wang said.

"Basically there are huge numbers of people with complaints against the government, and they have cracked down on us pretty hard," she said.

Wuzhen residents said the entire city is currently under security lockdown.

"Everything has shut down and we are all on vacation because of the Internet conference," one resident told RFA. "There is nothing open on the streets, and all the businesses have been taken over for the use of the security personnel."

"We can't even go out, because you need a special permit for that," he said. "This conference is driving us crazy."

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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