Senior Chinese official slams internet curbs in rare public outburst

CPPCC vice-chairman Luo Fuhe says restrictions threaten China’s social and economic growth

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 March, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 12:53pm

A senior official of China’s top advisory body has lashed out at the country’s increasing internet censorship, warning that heightened crackdowns threaten social and economic growth.

The remarks by Luo Fuhe, a vice-chairmen of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and executive vice-chairman of the China Association for Promoting Democracy, one of eight non-Communist parties on the mainland, were made on the eve of the opening of the political advisory body’s annual session, state media reported.

It is rare for senior officials such as Luo, whose position carries the rank of a state leader, to openly challenge the Communist Party’s internet restrictions, which have been further strengthened since President Xi Jinping took power in late 2012.

Luo was particularly bitter over growing restrictions imposed by government censors on overseas websites that are not deemed sensitive to China’s politics, according to China.com.cn, an official news portal.

According to Luo, formerly an academic-turned-official in charge of scientific development in Guangdong, it is increasingly difficult to access overseas websites, which goes against the country’s opening up policies.

Citing such websites as those of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and many overseas universities, he said “opening a single webpage takes at least 10 to 20 seconds while it can take over 30 minutes to visit the websites of some universities”.

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“It is not normal when quite a number of researchers have to purchase software that helps them bypass the country’s firewalls in order to complete their scientific research,” he said.

Luo also said such broad internet restrictions have become a major cause of concern for overseas investors and businesses operating in China, greatly undermining their confidence in the country’s future.

Such concerns over slow internet connections and increasing online censorship “will have grave impact on our country’s socio-economic development and scientific research” and must be properly addressed by the top leadership, he said.

According to the report, Luo’s China Association for Promoting Democracy planned to present a proposal at this year’s CPPCC session on easing restrictions and online censorship on websites that are not politically sensitive and deemed essential for the development of scientific research.

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In addition to banning Google, Twitter, Facebook and a long list of international news websites, mainland authorities routinely intensify internet restrictions ahead of major political gatherings and anniversaries, such as the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the CPPCC.

Beijing adopted a controversial cybersecurity law in November and also launched a campaign targeting tools to bypass the country’s “Great Firewall”, such as virtual private network services. Both moves have been widely criticised by foreign governments and rights groups.

China is also considering the establishment of a new commission to coordinate censorship policies and vet internet services and hardware in a bid to further tighten of controls on the internet despite widespread public discontent over media and internet censorship.

A foreign ministry official defended China’s internet censorship on Thursday, saying that each country needs to decide its own balance between unfettered freedom and governing the web. Beijing also vowed on Wednesday to “expedite the development of a cyberforce” and said enhancing defence capabilities in cyberspace was “an important part of China’s endeavour to modernise its national defences and armed forces”.