China has a new Internet czar.
Beijing has appointed Zhuang Rongwen as director for its powerful Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the regulator said in a brief statement Wednesday.
Zhuang, 57, is a close associate of President Xi Jinping who plans to turn China into a cyberpower, and enforce Communist Party Internet controls. Zhuang was previously deputy director of the CAC, an entity that sets industry guidelines related to technology, cybersecurity and censorship.
Xu Lin has held Zhuang’s new role since June 2016 and is in turn expected to be promoted to head of international propaganda according to unconfirmed reports cited by Variety.
The South China Morning Post points out how Zhuang has made a handful of public speeches on the Internet and Chinese governance. In April 2017 he attended the Internet Economy Summit in Hong Kong and suggested that the city embrace Internet technology to speed up “digital economy development”. In August last year, he praised the “Internet court” in Hangzhou for its efforts to allow cases to be settled online.
He will direct a controversial department, and will be a major contact for tech firms doing business in China. CAC-enforced government policies currently mean that many Western media cannot operate in China, with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube top of the list. The New York Times, The Economist and Bloomberg are also blocked from ordinary access.
Facebook was last month granted a business license to set up an innovation hub in the city of Hangzhou, however, although the permit was withdrawn within days, reportedly because the CAC put its foot down.
The CAC has been criticized for not properly carrying out the policies stipulated by President Xi. Onlookers have pointed out, however, that it may be related to the period up until mid-2016 when it was headed by Lu Wei. Lu was this week formally charged with corruption, allegedly having accepted “huge amounts” in bribes, according to state media.