Nonprofit groups are calling for a boycott of China’s upcoming World Internet Conference, which will draw top tech officials from around the globe.
The boycott call comes on the heels of China’s top Internet regulator defending the country’s extensive Web censorship practices.
“Freedom is our goal. Order is our means," said Lu Wei, head of the Cyberspace Administration of China.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a free press advocate, and GreatFire, a digital rights group that monitors Chinese online censorship, are both supporting the boycott push. They said Lu’s comments show Beijing officials are unwilling to discuss Internet freedom at the upcoming summit, scheduled for Dec. 16 to 18.
“Coming ahead of the World Internet Conference, the sole aim of this manipulation attempt is to preempt any discussion of media freedom and freedom of information,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
China has long controlled Web content within its borders, removing online comments and blocking numerous foreign media sites and social media platforms. The entire mechanism is often referred to as the Great Firewall.
But the country also holds great sway in the international digital market, given that China has over 650 million Internet users, roughly 300 million more than any other nation.
That gives many prominent Internet executives incentive to travel to a high-profile summit like the World Internet Conference. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Thompson Reuters CEO James Clifton Smith reportedly are among the thousands of foreign guests attending.
While Wikipedia and Reuters have been blocked in the country, LinkedIn created a Chinese version of its service that complies with local regulations.
GreatFire co-founder Charlie Smith said these attendees “should be ashamed of themselves.” Their presence makes them “complicit actors in the Chinese censorship regime,” he added.
“If foreign guests think that by attending the conference they can help to free China’s Internet then they are deluded,” he said.
At last year’s inaugural World Internet Conference, participants were reportedly asked to sign a nine-point joint statement that included a call to “respect Internet sovereignty of all countries.” Most took the line as an attempt to legitimize the Great Firewall.
Chinese officials have long stood by their right to control content, frequently pointing to national security concerns and a right to govern as they see fit.
“We do not welcome those that make money off China, occupy China’s market, even as they slander China's people,” Lu said in his remarks. “These kinds of websites I definitely will not allow in my house.”
“I, indeed, may choose who comes into my house,” he added. “They can come if they are friends.”