China seeks greater role in shaping Internet

A firefighting robot on display on Tuesday at the Light of Internet Expo ahead of the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen.
A firefighting robot on display on Tuesday at the Light of Internet Expo ahead of the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WUZHEN • China should have a more prominent role in shaping the future of the global Internet, President Xi Jinping has said in remarks that underscored how battle lines for control of the Web have hardened amid a biting trade war with the United States.

The official opening of the World Internet Conference, which last year attracted Apple chief Tim Cook and Google head Sundar Pichai, was more muted this year and did not include previous calls for a more open Internet.

"The official speeches spoke a lot less about openness and a lot more about strategic and pragmatic cooperation," said Dr Rogier Creemers, a China governance expert at Leiden University in the Netherlands. "It indicates they are less convinced about successful broad-based cooperation, particularly - if not expressed explicitly - with the United States."

Mr Xi, like last year, did not attend the event in person in the town of Wuzhen. In a speech read out for him yesterday at the event, Mr Xi said there was "an urgent need for us to speed up the Internet economy and work for governance that is more fair and equitable".

China has pushed for a bigger role in global Internet governance, even while calling on nations to respect Beijing's "cyber sovereignty", an idea that countries should be free to control and censor their Internet as they see fit.

Technology and the Internet are key battlegrounds in a trade war between China and the US, with a spotlight on US complaints about intellectual property theft.

Foreign websites, such as Alphabet's Google and Facebook, are blocked in China, where the authorities also tightly control online content and censor or punish those who post material seen as opposed to "core socialist values".


Mr Xi's comments come as China's technology and Internet firms have taken a hit from rising uncertainty linked to the trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, and also greater involvement of the Chinese state in online industries.

While the heads of Apple and Google did not attend this year, conference delegates did hear from the chief executives of US chipmaker Qualcomm and Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings.

Tencent chief Pony Ma said China's economy was resilient and the country's Internet sector had a bright future despite hurdles.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2018, with the headline 'China seeks greater role in shaping Internet'. Print Edition | Subscribe