China’s Aim to Rewrite Rules of Global Internet

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Mission: Control online discourse, reduce U.S. influence

SHANGHAI— James T. Areddy writes: As social media helped topple regimes in the Middle East and northern Africa, a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army publicly warned that an Internet dominated by the U.S. threatened to overthrow China’s Communist Party.

Ye Zheng and a Chinese researcher, writing in the state-run China Youth Daily, said the Internet represented a new form of global control, and the U.S. was a “shadow” present during some of those popular uprisings. Beijing had better pay attention.

Four years after they sounded that alarm, China is paying a lot of attention. Its government is pushing to rewrite the rules of the global Internet, aiming to draw the world’s largest group of Internet users away from an interconnected global commons and to increasingly run parts of the Internet on China’s terms.

Unlike Putin, Xi Jinping is someone Obama does not want to alienate. | AP Photo

Flexibility

“Many Western companies are surrendering to Beijing’s rules so they can build a position in China, with an online population nearing 700 million.”

It envisions a future in which governments patrol online discourse like border-control agents, rather than let the U.S., long the world’s digital leader, dictate the rules.

“Ye Zheng and a Chinese researcher, writing in the state-run China Youth Daily, said the Internet represented a new form of global control, and the U.S. was a “shadow” present during some of those popular uprisings.”

President Xi Jinping—with the help of conservatives in government, academia, military and the technology industry—is moving to exert influence over virtually every part of the digital world in China, from semiconductors to social media. In doing so, Mr. Xi is trying to fracture the international system that makes the Internet basically the same everywhere, and is pressuring foreign companies to help.

“Four years after they sounded that alarm, China is paying a lot of attention.”

On July 1, China’s legislature passed a new security law asserting the nation’s sovereignty extends into cyberspace and calling for network technology to be “controllable.” A week later, China released a draft law to tighten controls over the domestic Internet, including codifying the power to cut access during public-security emergencies.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

Other draft laws under consideration would encourage Chinese companies to find local replacements for technology equipment purchased abroad and force foreign vendors to give local authorities encryption keys that would let them control the equipment.

Chinese officials referred questions about Internet policy to the Cyberspace Administration of China, a recently formed government body. That agency declined to make an official available to comment for this article. Read the rest of this entry »