Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Delegates listen to speakers at last year’s World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. Photo: Xinhua

China’s World Internet Conference goes ‘international’ as Beijing seeks to promote its own vision of global cyberspace

  • Xinhua news agency reported that founding members include ‘institutions, organisations, businesses and individuals’ from nearly 20 countries
  • The conference in Wuzhen has been relatively low key in recent years as China’s tech entrepreneurs kept a low profile amid regulatory scrutiny

China’s World Internet Conference (WIC), an annual event that promoted the country’s model of internet governance, said it has transformed into an “international organisation” as part of Beijing efforts to push its vision of global cyberspace.

Although WIC did not not publish a list of the founding members of the new body, the official Xinhua news agency reported that they include “institutions, organisations, businesses and individuals” from nearly 20 countries. Zhuang Rongwen, the director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, will be the director-general of the body.

A ceremony was held in Beijing on Tuesday to announce the formation of the organisation, which had hosted the annual event, also known as the Wuzhen Summit, in the picturesque canal town near Shanghai since 2014.

China’s car, internet and property sectors poised for second-half rebound

The new group is expected to host more regional and thematic summits and seminars to promote the development of a global internet, according to a statement on its website.

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a congratulatory letter, saying its creation was “an important measure to … deepen international cyberspace cooperation”, Xinhua reported. “The future of cyberspace should be jointly built by all countries of the world,” Xi said.

Huang Kunming, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, addresses the ceremony for the revamped World Internet Conference on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua

China is known for its rigid control of the internet, with its Great Firewall blocking many foreign services, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, from the country’s domestic users. At the same time, Chinese regulators have clipped the wings of its own Big Tech firms to manage the internet as a tool for state goals.

The annual conference in Wuzhen has been relatively low key in recent years as China’s tech entrepreneurs kept a low profile amid regulatory scrutiny. At last year’s conference, Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun and Alibaba Group Holding’s CEO Daniel Zhang Yong pledged their support for Xi’s “common prosperity” drive that aims to help Chinese society. (Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post).
Participation by foreign tech CEOs in Wuzhen has also declined, especially since the outbreak of Covid-19. Last year, a handful of foreign CEOs delivered addresses via video, including Tesla’s Elon Musk, Intel’s Pat Gelsinger and Qualcomm’s Cristiano Amon.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, addresses the opening ceremony of the 2021 World Internet Conference via video, Sept. 26, 2021. Photo: Xinhua
However, the last in-person appearance by big name foreign CEOs was five years ago when Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai showed up.

“WIC has been about promoting China’s vision of global internet governance from the get-go, but it is presented with an emphasis on collaboration and exchange,” said Thomas Nunlist, senior analyst at Trivium China. The new organisation is likely to try and bring countries more into China’s orbit, and make declarations that further push Beijing’s model for the internet, Nunlist said.

The latest effort by China to promote its own vision of the global internet comes after the US and 55 other nations vowed to build a future internet underpinned by democratic values earlier this year. The initiative said its aim was to protect human rights, promote free flow of information and protect the privacy of users to counter a “dangerous new model” of internet policy from Beijing, Moscow and others.