China's president defends Internet restrictions

China's president defends Internet restrictions

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called for “cyber sovereignty,” arguing that countries should be allowed to determine independently how they wish to govern the Internet.

Speaking at China’s second World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, he called on the international community to "respect the right of individual countries to choose their own path to cyber development, model of cyber regulation and participate on the same footing."

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Xi called for a balance between order and freedom, echoing previous administration claims that the former leads to broader Internet freedoms.

"We should respect Internet users' rights to exchange their ideas and express their minds, and we should also build a good order in cyberspace in accordance with law as it will help protect the legitimate rights and interests of all Internet users,” Xi said.

China’s strict Internet policies, known as the Great Firewall, have intensified under Xi’s administration, coinciding with a crackdown on freedom of expression online. Western services such as Facebook and Google’s email platform Gmail are prohibited from operating there, while bloggers and online activists are regularly detained for “spreading rumors online” and “picking quarrels,” the U.S. nongovernmental organization Freedom House reports.

Lu Wei, head of the Cyberspace Administration of China, defended China’s policies at a briefing on the conference earlier this month.

"Freedom is our goal. Order is our means," Lu said.

China has attempted to elevate the status of the annual conference as part of an attempt to influence international Internet governance rules, experts say. Xi did not speak at last year’s event.  

Beijing has pinned many of its strict policies on a need to protect national security. A broad slate of cybersecurity laws the country passed earlier this spring require all technologies — including those belonging to foreign firms — to be “secure and controllable.”

The regulations have come under fire from international business groups that fear they will be required to turn over proprietary source code in order to operate in China’s lucrative market.

Beijing has also faced criticism for persistent hacking on U.S. firms, in addition to its human rights abuses.

Xi on Tuesday obliquely chided the international community for interfering in China’s digital policy.

“No country should pursue cyber hegemony, interfere in other countries’ internal affairs or engage in, connive at, or support cyber activities that undermine other counties’ national security,” Xi said.