China Tightens Grip Further on Internet Users, Mulls Livestreaming Ban

2019-12-11
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Chinese pupils attend a class at a children's computer coding training center in Beijing, Nov. 8, 2019.
Chinese pupils attend a class at a children's computer coding training center in Beijing, Nov. 8, 2019.
AFP

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has taken further steps to tighten control over the country's internet with a proposed ban on livestreaming and orders to state-run organizations to replace foreign-branded computer equipment with domestic equivalents.

The ministry of culture and tourism issued a draft set of regulations stating that webcasts must be delayed by at least three minutes before being broadcast, with effect from Dec. 22, with specially hired censors to screen the content before it goes live.

"Online broadcasters should formulate live broadcast management procedures and emergency contingency plans, recruit special personnel to conduct a real-time review of live broadcast content and interactive content like user comments," the directive, which has been released for comments, said.

"[Reviewers must] promptly deal with any problems, and retain all video footage for at least 60 days for future reference," it said.

It said the ministry has a duty to "prevent the occurrence of content that violates the constitution, laws, regulations and other provisions."

Sichuan-based internet user He Kun said the ruling Chinese Communist Party has long regarded the general population as a hostile force to the reckoned with.

"Nowadays people, especially dissidents, daren't criticize [the government] online ... if you make a mistake and do something forbidden, they can detain you in a matter of minutes," He said.

"It is getting harder and harder to exist in such a space."

The proposed controls on livestreaming came after the government required all departments and state-run entities to phase out any foreign-manufactured computer equipment in the next three years and replace it with domestically produced hardware.

Ye Yaoyuan, a professor at St. Thomas University in the United States, said the move will achieve two things.

"The first is that it sends a signal to the Western world that they don't need to rely on its technology any more," Ye said. "The second is that, as part of the trade war, Chinese President Xi Jinping will need to take some measures if he does not want to been seen as kowtowing to the U.S."

"The replacement of foreign technology products sends a message to the Chinese people that we don't have to worry about the trade war, because ... we don't need to buy this stuff from others; we have our own," he said.

Xie Jiaye, head of the New York-based Chinese Association of Science and Technology, said China is still pretty dependent on foreign technology imports, however.

"A high proportion of computers used by Chinese companies and government departments computers, especially software, are imported," Xie said.

The move comes after Washington moved to limit the use of Chinese technology, including the use of telecommunications equipment made by Huawei and artificial intelligence by SenseTime. It is likely to hit U.S. tech companies like HP, Dell, and Microsoft.

The Financial Times estimated that 20 million to 30 million pieces of foreign-made hardware will need to be replaced. It said the process will begin next year.

Ye said Chinese companies are entirely capable of developing a homegrown computer industry, but that a lack of competition could lead to quality issues in the long term.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese, and by Han Jie for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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