A more open internet is in China’s interest
Beijing’s concerns are understandable, but a more open internet is necessary for business, scientific and academic research and for the nation to be informed and moving confidently forward
Few countries have internet restrictions as tight as China’s, yet the nation’s ambitions for technology are global. President Xi Jinping acknowledged the disparity in a speech read out at the nation’s biggest public cyber policy forum, contending that opening the door to worldwide access was still possible while ensuring security. International tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook that had representatives attending, businesspeople, scientists and tourists are surely wondering how and when that will happen. The concerns of Chinese officials are understandable, although there is a need for a more calibrated approach to that in place.
The annual forum, the World Internet Conference, was held in Wuzhen, a town of 60,000 people in the eastern province of Zhejiang. But no matter where China would host such an event, it is bound to attract the world’s tech giants. As research unveiled at the gathering by the Chinese Academy of Cyberspace Studies showed, China ranks second only to the United States when it comes to internet development and innovation. But the study of 38 countries also revealed the nation is also in the lower half of lists when it comes to cybersecurity and infrastructure, while Western non-governmental groups place it at or near the bottom of rankings of internet freedoms.
China further tightened its controls this year, clamping down on virtual private networks, increasing monitoring of messaging apps and requiring use of real names on social media. A new cybersecurity measure was also adopted making it obligatory for foreign firms to store data within the country and submit to surveillance checks. The continued blocking of Facebook and Google leads to accusations that Chinese firms offering similar services are being given an unfair advantage. But officials assert the measures are necessary for national security, social order and to protect socialist values.
With cyber sovereignty so important, Beijing will not easily give up its internet controls. But Xi said fast developments meant that “China’s doors will become more and more open”. A more open internet is necessary for business, scientific and academic research and for the nation to be informed and moving confidently forward.