Xi defends China's right to regulate the Internet

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Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday pushed back against concerns that new Chinese regulations and restrictions are meant to censor online speech and keep foreign businesses out of the country.

“We welcome all foreign companies in China and will respect and protect their lawful rights and interests provided that they abide by the laws and regulations of China and do nothing to undermine China’s national interests and interests of Chinese consumers,” Xi said in an long written interview with The Wall Street Journal.

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Businesses and nonprofits have watched warily in recent years as China has moved to further control the flow of digital information and pass a national security law that requires certain technologies to be “secure and controllable.”

Industry groups argue the moves are intended to lock out foreign technology firms, while digital rights advocates see the actions as an attempt to censor public dissent.

Ahead of his first official state visit in Washington later this week, Xi maintained China’s right to regulate its own Internet.

“Rule of law also applies to the Internet, with the need to safeguard a country’s sovereignty, security and development interests as relevant as in the real world,” he said.

“Freedom and order must be upheld side by side in both cyberspace and the physical world,” Xi continued. “Freedom is the purpose of order, and order the guarantee of freedom. We need to fully respect netizens’ rights to express themselves, while at the same time, ensure a sound cyberspace order to better protect the lawful rights and interests of all netizens.”

Critics believe Xi has failed to respect these rights of expression. Digital-rights advocates have noted a dramatic uptick since the summer of 2014 in government efforts to selectively repress digital expression.

“China in the last couple of years has moved in such a repressive manner,” Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Dems push for US, EU cooperation on China's market status MORE (D-Ore.) told reporters in April. “I look around the world [and] there are few if any countries that have moved so rapidly to reduce access to the Internet and the free flow of information.”

This digital crackdown has more recently expanded to outside companies.

A wide-ranging national security law, approved in July, gave Beijing authorities the vague jurisdiction to ensure networks and computer systems are “secure and controllable.” Businesses say this clause may force them to give officials access to customer data and source code.

In his interview, Xi said these companies should be helping China to secure the global Internet, which is in everyone’s interest.

“The international community as a whole should work together to build a peaceful, secure, open and cooperative cyberspace on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and mutual trust,” he said.

Xi and other top Chinese officials may address exactly what the “secure and controllable” clause means during a tech forum in Seattle, scheduled for Wednesday.