World Internet Conference 2015

World Internet Conference: security tight as China’s ‘Venice of the East’ readies for foreign leaders

Tourists banned from popular destination ahead of three-day event to be attended by President Xi Jinping

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 12:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2015, 10:08am

Wuzhen inn owner Shen Guohua has been forced to shut down his business this week.

The tourist destination in Zhejiang is off limits to regular tourists as it hosts top internet executives, government officials and overseas leaders for the World Internet Conference.

The conference, which gets under way on Wednesday and continues until Friday, involves much tighter security than last year’s conference, according to Shen and other residents.

Tourists have been not allowed into the town since Friday and authorities set up a security headquarters a few weeks ago, requiring residents to register.

“I think it [the tight security] is for President Xi Jinping and other top leaders,” Shen said.

Xi is scheduled to attend the event and make the opening speech, reflecting the importance the authorities attach to the internet as a source of economic development.

More than 2,000 participants from 120 countries and regions are due to take part in the conference, including eight foreign leaders and close to 50 ministerial-level officials.

Among them are Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev and Tajik Prime Minister Kokhir Rasulzoda, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China.

The founders of the mainland’s top three internet companies – Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu – are expected to make appearances, as well as executives from Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Huawei, ZTE and tech start-up Didi Kuaidi.

The event comes as more overseas internet and technology companies look to China but are wary of restrictions and censorship.

READ MORE: China’s president to make first speech to global web forum

Last year, when Vice-Premier Ma Kai addressed an audience that included the leaders of the nation’s major internet firms at the conference’s opening ceremony, a small group of protesters outside called for more freedom. “China Open Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, 64tianwang and other sites,” one banner read.

Most private hotels, restaurants and cafes were told to close on Friday until the conference ended, a cafe worker said.

“Without registering and checking, even local residents are not allowed to stay into the town,” she said. “Local officials said we would have some compensation for the inconvenience but not much.”

“We have seen many armed policemen patrolling the town and helicopters hovering above our houses.

Shen said free Wi-fi was available in most parts of the town but had no idea if the event’s participants could access websites that usually were blocked on the mainland.

Addressing the media last week, Lu Wei, the head of the Cyberspace Administration of China admitted that mainland authorities had strengthened control over the internet, especially in cracking down on online rumours and cybercrimes.

Lu said censors would only block posts that violated national laws or infringed on the rights and interests of others.

An official from the Zhejiang Digital Certificate Authority, a company helping organise the conference’s exhibition, said participants needed to present their conference cards as well as their personal identification to enter Wuzhen.