China’s shadowy ideology chief steps out from behind the curtains to address internet conference

Wang Huning makes rare public speech calling for ‘more balanced’ set of rules at state-run conference on the internet

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 4:10pm

After decades working behind the scenes, Wang Huning, the mastermind behind China’s official ideology for the past quarter of a century, has made a rare public appearance to give the keynote speech at a state-run internet conference near Shanghai.

A top policy adviser to China’s past three presidents – Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping – Wang, 62, has made few public utterances despite his role as ghost writer and global strategist for the Communist Party’s leadership over the past two decades.

Wang’s speech to the World Internet Conference on Sunday came just weeks after he secured a seat on the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.

As the most senior political figure at the event, which Apple chief executive Tim Cook and Google boss Sundar Pichai also attended, Wang’s presence appeared to be further confirmation that the new number five in the party’s hierarchy will take care of ideological control.

Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai attend Chinese state-run internet conference

Wang addressed state journalists and political advisers last month, but these two speeches were not open to non-official media.

At Sunday’s event in Wuzhen, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, Wang did not wave to his audience as he led the dozen officials into the main arena.

Speaking in a low voice and fluently repeating the tongue-twisting jargon of the party’s political slogans, Wang argued for China to have a greater say over how the internet operates around the world, with a call for more “balanced internet rules”.

“China is happy to work with the international community to make international rules that are more balanced and better reflect the interests of all parties,” he said.

China has one of the most tightly censored internet regimes in the world and its notorious “Great Firewall” blocks major global sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter.

“The Communist Party of China has just held the 19th party congress and enacted Xi Jinping’s thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era as the party’s guidelines,” Wang said to hundreds of diplomats, politicians and businesspeople.

“China is willing to cooperate with the international community to make rules on cross border e-commerce and data flows.”

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A former dean of Fudan University’s law school in Shanghai, Wang’s theoretical work and intellectual powers were highly regarded in the 1980s.

In an article published in 1988, Wang said that adopting a centralised leadership model was better than a “democratic and decentralised” model because it would allow the authorities to be “highly effective in distributing social resources” and “promote rapid growth”.

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Unified leadership “could prevent unnecessary conflicts between different ideas”, Wang said. He said such a system could help the authorities to “promptly react to all kinds of unexpected and urgent situations” and take “forceful action to prevent major instabilities and fragmentation during modernisation”.

As well as domestic politics and ideology, Wang was also a senior foreign affairs policy adviser.

After being promoted to the party’s Central Secretariat in 2007, Wang accompanied Hu and later Xi on most of their foreign trips.

With his promotion to the innermost ruling body in October, he is expected to give more direct policy support to Xi.