China’s Great Firewall of web censorship not a trade barrier, says nation’s internet regulator
Comments by Cyberspace Administration of China come after report by US government cited Beijing’s blocking of websites is a ‘significant burden’ on businesses
China’s online censorship system protects national security and does not discriminate against foreign companies, the country’s internet regulator said after the United States described Beijing’s blocking of websites as trade barrier.
The office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) wrote in an annual report that over the past year China’s web censorship had worsened, presenting a “significant burden” to foreign firms and internet users.
China has long operated the world’s most sophisticated online censorship mechanism, widely known outside the country as the Great Firewall, although the USTR had not listed it as a trade impediment since 2013, when Xi Jinping became China’s president.
Last week Chinese web users were blocked from seeing news reports about the leaked “Panama Papers” documents from a law firm in Panama, which say relatives of political figures, including Xi, own offshore firms.
State media carried brief reports on the revelations, without mentioning the Chinese political figures.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said that its online censorship did not target specific countries or violate its trade commitments.
“The aim of the internet security inspection system is to guarantee the security and controllability of information technology products and services, safeguard user information security, and strengthen market and user confidence,” the CAC said on Friday.
“China scrupulously abides by World Trade Organisation principles and its accession protocols, protects foreign enterprises’ lawful interests according to law, and creates a fair market environment for them,” the regulator said.
Censorship was mainly related to products and services that involve “national security”, it said.
Under Xi, the government has implemented an unprecedented tightening of internet controls and sought to codify the policy within the law.
The websites for Google’s services, Facebook and Twitter, and many top global news websites are inaccessible in China. Officials say web controls help maintain social stability and security amid threats such as terrorism.
An editorial in the Global Times, an influential state-run tabloid, said history will judge the Great Firewall positively as it will give China time to develop “soft power and strength” in the face of “Western opinion’s interference”.
“China has achieved this – it can communicate with the outside world, meanwhile, Western opinions cannot easily penetrate as ideological tools,” the newspaper said on Monday.
According to data from the anti-censorship group GreatFire.org, almost a quarter of the hundreds of thousands of web pages, domains, encrypted sites, online searches and IP addresses that it monitors in China were blocked as of early April.
That was up from 14 per cent at the time Xi assumed the presidency.
Foreign business lobbies complain that Chinese internet restrictions go beyond inconvenience and actually limit business competitiveness.
A 2016 survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China showed 79 per cent of its members reported a negative impact on business due to internet censorship.