Monday, December 21, 2015

China’s New War over Internet

Swearing on Internet
My article China’s New War over Internet appeared in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

Beijing irredentism is not restricted to the China Seas, Beijing also wants to be the leader in cyberspace and impose its own law.
President Xi Jinping in his keynote speech at the World Internet Conference (WIC), recently asserted that the world needs new rules for cyberspace; he strongly defended the Middle Kingdom’s internet controls.
The three-day conference was held in Wuzhen in Zhejiang province. The Chinese media said that some 2,000 senior global technology company executives and ‘world leaders’ from more than 120 countries and regions had come to discuss the ‘future of Internet’.
The foreign leaders who attended the conference included Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Karim Massimov, Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Surrey Aliyev, and Tajikistan’s Prime Minister Kokhir Rasulzoda.
The WIC website affirmed that the Conference was part of Beijing’s effort to ‘assume the responsibility of a great network power’. Beijing may have some reasons to believe that China has become ‘the leader’.
According to the China Internet Network Information Centre, China has some 668 million internet users, 594 million using their mobile phones.
The same source says that in 2014, Chinese mobile users spent an average of 158 minutes every day using their smartphones for entertainment.
I wonder if anybody has similar stats for India.
But …China has the strongest and most sophisticated censorship machinery of the planet. According to, more than 5,000 websites are officially blocked on the mainland. In actual fact, it may be much, much more. This writer’s blog has been blocked for the past 5 years. Why? Just because I analyze the situation in Tibet from time to time. Among the ‘famous’ websites and networking platforms blocked are Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
At the same time, e-payment is growing fast. China Internet Watch Mobile believes that the amount paid through internet in China reached US$4.19 trillion during the second quarter of 2015, up 445 per cent from the same period last year. Some 650 million Chinese use Tencent’s mobile messaging app WeChat; out of which 60 per cent use the app’s built-in WeChat Wallet service.
And then e-commerce! It may reach US$ 672 billion this year, more than 40 per cent of the world e-commerce. On November 11, on the occasion of Singles Day shopping, Chinese spent a record US$14.3 billion online on websites such as Alibaba’s Taobao Taobao and Tmall.
Does this give China the right to dictate the world’s Internet policy?
No, especially with the Chinese State becoming more and more assertive in the way it controls the use of the Internet. The Party considers the present ‘struggle’ as a war, on whose outcome would depend the fate of the Communist Party. Many believe that if ‘western views’ would prevail, the Party could soon lose its central place in China.
Qiao Mu, a communication expert at the Beijing Foreign Studies University told The South China Morning Post: “Over the past few years, Beijing has gone from passive defence to active offence in its internet security. Staging the conference is a way for China to showcase the legitimacy of its internet governance.”
In his address to the Conference, Xi Jinping asserted: “The internet should be regulated to protect countries’ core interests”, while presenting his vision for a new system of cybersecurity governance.
Xi noted that control was important to find ‘a balance between order and freedom of expression’; he asserted that ultimately each country has the right to choose their own set of rules: “Cyberspace is not a place beyond the rule of law. While respecting internet users’ rights to exchange ideas and express their views, efforts should be made to build a sound cyberspace order under the law so as to protect the legitimate rights and interests of all internet users”.
Though not openly, Xi’s attack was directed at the United State, especially when he said “There should be no internet hegemony”; he also spoke of no “interference in another country’s internal affairs.”
It was rather ironic as it is a fact that the Chinese hackers have been involved in attacks on other countries’ institutions more than once.
Was Xi really serious when he spoke of not ‘tolerating or supporting internet activities that damage another country’s national security’?
While Lu Wei, China’s ‘cyberspace minister’ promised to “build a multilateral, democratic, transparent international Internet governance system that will better benefit the whole world,” The New York Times was barred from this year’s Conference.
The China Daily reported quoted Lu saying China ‘only welcomes friends’, though he denied there was any censorship in the country.
Today, China has one of the most comprehensive Internet censorship apparatus in the world to suppress dissidence and any information considered ‘unsafe’ for the ruling Communist Party.
A Xinhua article explained: “A stabilized China is in line with global interests, which is especially true comparing China's security, prosperity and vibrancy with chaos in some places around the world.”
It is not said if India is counted in the chaotic countries …in any case, there is no doubt that the freedom in India brings far more stability than the ‘order’ in China, which seems caught in a vicious circle.
Last year, a Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informatisation was created to monitor the Internet and in July this year, the National People’s Congress, China’s legislative body, published the draft of the first internet security law, under which law enforcement agencies will be authorised to ban access to the Internet during times of social unrest and will have the legal powers to obtain whatever information they require from telecom providers.
A year ago, when several well-known bloggers were convicted on various charges, including ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, others became silent; that is to ‘kill a few chickens to scare the monkeys’, in Maoist parlance.
One of the ‘chickens’ is human rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, who was detained in May 2014 while attending a private seminar to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. He was charged of writing microblog commentaries critical to the Party.
In November, in an article in the People’s Daily, Huang Kunming, the Party’s deputy propaganda chief, use the word ‘battlefield’ to describe the ideological struggle facing the Communist regime over internet security. He spoke of “strengthening the building of the online battlefield of thoughts and culture”.
Internet security has become an increasingly important priority for a nervous Communist Party over the past two years.
To give another example of the regime’s uneasiness, on October 21, the Party published new Disciplinary Regulations; it included a new violation item which referred to officials who make improper comments about, or criticize the Party's decisions.
The People's Forum, a subsidiary under The People's Daily, explained the regulation: Party members are still allowed to have individual opinions which can be different from the Party's position, but they have to express them through proper channels. The new regulation is to prevent officials from making improper comments or criticizing the Party Central's key decisions in a public forum.
Internet security may have become an increasingly important priority for the Communist Party, but the free world does need to follow Beijing’s lead or China’s law and lose its freedom in the process.

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