President Xi Jinping announced the creation of a new steering group tasked with overseeing internet security and IT development, which he will head, and called the tasks a national priority.
The central leading group on internet security and informatisation would lead and co-ordinate cybersecurity and the promotion of information technologies across various sectors, state media cited Xi as saying at the panel's first meeting yesterday.
"There is no national security without internet security, and there is no modernisation without wide adoption of information technologies," Xi said. "Efforts should be made to build our country into a cyberpower," he told the members of the leading group and other ministers attending the meeting.
Premier Li Keqiang and propaganda tsar Liu Yunshan, both members of the Communist Party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee, are the group's deputy chiefs.
Xi has steadily been consolidating power since he took the party's helm in late 2012. November's plenum of the party's Central Committee approved his administration's blueprint for reform, which included creating two powerful top organs, one to steer reform and another to co-ordinate national security. It was later announced Xi heads both.
Although the cybersecurity group was not named in November, Xi had told attendants that internet and information security had become the party's new challenge, as both were tied with national security and social stability.
Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based historian and frequent political commentator, said he was surprised Xi was chairing the cybersecurity panel. "To put cybersecurity on par with national security … perhaps the authorities see the internet as closely linked with ideological work, or someone had exaggerated the foreign threat posed by cyberspace. I think it is a bit of an overreaction," Zhang said.
Authorities said that, at the end of last year, the mainland had some 618 million internet users, with about a third living in the countryside.
Xi yesterday also called on officials to improve propaganda about cyberspace and handle public opinion in a timely and effective manner.
He stressed the need for a comprehensive plan to develop IT and cybersecurity technology, and called for new policies to support companies in the field. Legislation was needed on managing information online and the protection of key web infrastructure facilities, he said.
Additional reporting by Zhuang Pinghui