Why It Matters

China's Internet vision takes root

China's intense lobbying of nations and major tech firms in the past year to buy into its vision of state-led Internet development has achieved a degree of success that should worry supporters of an open and globally connected Internet.

At the fourth World Internet Conference on Sunday, President Xi Jinping rightly said that the global Internet governance system is in "a crucial period" now, as more stakeholders agree with Beijing's views on how to govern the Internet.

These include notions such as respecting cyber sovereignty, and each country's "right to choose its own Internet development path, Internet governance and Internet policies", which in China's case means censorship of content deemed unsavoury and blocking of foreign websites.

Foreign tech firms, which in past years had been reluctant to send their top leaders to the state-organised summit so as not to be seen as endorsing China's tight Internet control, have this year flocked to the ancient canal town of Wuzhen.

Headlines such as "Internet: Cook proud of China ties", referring to Apple chief Tim Cook, and Chinese media quoting Airbnb and eBay agreeing with China's Internet plans, show businesses are willing to play ball, as the world's largest Internet market grows in value and importance.

Mr Xi has also promised nations help in building digital infrastructure, in exchange for global support on Internet development and governance.

On Sunday, China launched an "international cooperation initiative" with six nations, most of whom score poorly in Internet freedoms.

But if more nations were to join in, just as Western tech firms are cosying up to China, the global Net could one day look like China's: fast and efficient for purposes like shopping and entertainment, but fragmented and neutered for information that governments consider out of bounds.

SEE WORLD: US, China experts differ on Net governance

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2017, with the headline 'China's Internet vision takes root'. Print Edition | Subscribe