Simultaneously as it is keeping much of the outside internet out of the bounds of its Great Firewall, China is prepared to cooperate with other countries in order to create a common, global cyberspace community that would focus on the underlying infrastructure – which China’s leading tech companies can serve well.
The idea to build this “community” was floated in a letter penned by President Xi Jinping and read at this year’s Wuzhen World Internet Conference, reports are saying.
Now in its seventh iteration, the conference, which Beijing uses to promote and “export” its model of restricted and controlled internet, in the past saw participation from Apple and Google CEOs Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai. This year, along with representatives of Chinese giants Alibaba and ZTE, Qualcomm and Cisco CEOs Steve Mollenkopf and Chuck Robbins are also taking part via video.
But the top speaker is no doubt Xi, whose message stressed the importance of digital technology in the era of coronavirus, but also the need for countries to work together on producing this “shared cyberspace,” i.e., internet infrastructure.
Xi continues to beat the drum of the internet playing a major role in helping economies devastated by the pandemic get back on their feet, underlining the importance of online education, communication, remote work – that hugely gained in importance as a result of lockdowns.
The Chinese leader is now inviting other countries to build on this situation, which he refers to as the information revolution, develop it further, and do that together.
That said – the state of the internet in China is such that if somebody in the mainland disagreed with this message and tried to argue their case against it online, chances are very high they would be censored.
Recently, Amnesty International said that the country’s sophisticated system of internet censorship is driven by the fear of the ruling Communist Party of losing power, and that it developed into an Orwellian surveillance state.
In all this, China acts like a superpower that allows itself to at once seriously restrict and undermine both digital and human rights at home, and use its political and economic clout to promote its model internationally.