China’s World Internet Conference that began today was farcical.
The world leaders attending were limited to Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, the president of Pakistan, the prime ministers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan among a few others.
Little news came out of the conference where China President Xi Jinping delivered the keynote. Rather, it is an event where China hopes to use speech to spread its ideal of “cyber sovereignty”—an Internet walled off from the world through censorship and firewalls.
Among Xi’s statements:
“As in the real world, freedom and order are both necessary in cyberspace: Freedom is what order is meant for, and order is the guarantee for freedom,” he said.
Current events in China make this hard to reconcile. Civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang is facing eight years in jail for seven social media posts he sent critical of the Communist Party.
“As long as they abide by China’s laws, we warmly welcome enterprises and business-starters from all countries to invest and do business in China,” Xi said.
Blaming the victim is a tactic of China’s propagandists. Facebook, Twitter, formerly Google, WordPress, and Instagram are among the Western websites blocked in China.
“All countries should join hands to curb abuse of information technology, against internet surveillance and cyber attacks, against a cyberspace arms race,” he said.
The scope of America’s surveillance operation has become known after Edward Snowden’s disclosures. China is also known to have one of biggest hacking operations in the world.
The World Internet Conference was really a soapbox for Xi to outline China’s Internet vision. Among the company attendees were CEOs from Baidu, Alibaba, and JD.com. LinkedIn Chairman Reid Hoffman and executives from Alphabet and Apple were also said to attend.
Reporters covering the event could access banned websites in China like Facebook. Everyone arriving from abroad received a free Mi Note LTE smartphone from China’s national champion startup Xiaomi.
Before Xi’s speech, in a hint at the event’s relevance among the world’s Internet leaders, the event was far from having the usual buzz of a tech conference.
But that may not matter to Xi, who controls China’s Internet, with or without the West’s consent.