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US presses China on Internet control ahead of Xi visit

US presses China on Internet control ahead of Xi visit
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During this week’s U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, State Department officials pressed China on its recent national security law that tightens government control over the Internet.

State officials “conveyed our deep concern that China’s recently passed and ambiguously worded national security law may be used as a legal facade to justify further crackdowns on peaceful expression,” said Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, during a Thursday briefing.

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The dialogue gave a preview of some of the topics the two sides will discuss during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming Washington visit in September.

Xi’s trip is seen as vital to sustaining the U.S.-China relationship, which has been strained in recent months over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and a number of suspected Chinese cyberattacks on the U.S. government, in addition to the recent national security law.

China in early July irked human rights activists and the international business community with the new national security rules. The legislation will give Beijing officials the vague authority to make digital networks and computer systems “secure and controllable.”

Many worry China will use the authority to ramp up its already robust crackdown on the flow of digital information within and across its borders.

Foreign businesses also fear the law will lock them out of the country if they refuse to give Beijing officials access to servers and customer data.

The measure is part of a slate of laws that have digital rights activists and the international business community concerned.

Beijing officials have proposed new counterterrorism and cybersecurity regulations that would require foreign companies operating within China to submit source code for inspection and install Beijing-approved encryption.

Malinowski said the two sides discussed these pending laws, “all of which suffer from similar problems” as the national security law.

Such laws are potentially damaging to “free discourse both online and offline,” he added.

“We discussed freedom of expression and the disconnect between a government intent on stopping the flow of ideas in a citizenry that is increasingly well traveled, cosmopolitan, and hungry for information about the world,” Malinowski said.