Xi urges officials to use Net to engage citizens

Party should be patient, address grievances as discontent grows amid an economic slowdown

BEIJING • Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on Communist Party officials to use the Internet to better understand citizens and address their grievances, said state media, as an economic downturn sparks popular frustration.

The party should be patient with Internet users, resolve difficulties and correct erroneous opinions in a timely manner, said Mr Xi yesterday, according to Xinhua.

The government is embracing the Internet as a key space in which to shape public discourse, an increasingly pressing issue as discontent spreads among the growing number of people hit by the economic slowdown.

More broadly, the ruling Communist Party sees technology as crucial for bolstering its economy, which grew at an annual rate of 6.7 per cent in the first quarter, its weakest pace since early 2009.

In an effort to shape public opinion online, Mr Xi's government has implemented an unprecedented tightening of Internet controls and sought to codify the policy within the law, a campaign that critics say ignores human rights and is a burden for business.

Officials say Internet restrictions are needed to ensure security in the face of rising threats such as terrorism and foreign ideology that could destabilise China.

Mr Xi was at a symposium on cyber security - which was also attended by Premier Li Keqiang, propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, Alibaba Group Holding executive chairman Jack Ma and Huawei Technologies chairman Ren Zhengfei - when he made his remarks, Xinhua said.

Also taking part were top officials from the People's Liberation Army and state security apparatus, according to the news agency.

Internet regulators should welcome and learn from constructive criticism online, whether it is targeted at the party and government or individual leaders, Mr Xi said, topics which are usually considered off-limits by China's censors.

But, if cyberspace is in turmoil, it will not be in the people's interest, Xinhua cited Mr Xi as saying.

The Chinese leader's comments echo his words in December, when he said people should be able to speak freely online. But the Chinese authorities have continued to censor views that differ from the party's, in some cases detaining people for comments they make online.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2016, with the headline 'Xi urges officials to use Net to engage citizens'. Print Edition | Subscribe