By Shamel Dishack
China will be hosting its fourth World Internet Conference (WIC) from December 3-5 to revise, update, and discuss policies amongst government agencies, international organizations, and technological communities. Also known as the Wuzhen Summit, the conference will take place in the Zhejiang Providence. The WIC tackles topics such as digital economy, smart tourism, cyberspace governance, and innovative technology, according to English.gov.cn. For this year’s event, GBTimes reports that the theme will be about “Developing e-Commerce and Improving Sharing in the Digital Economy – Building a Common Destiny in Cyberspace”.
The WIC centers on the need for nations to monitor the flow of the internet in their respective borders. When the first conference took place in 2014, it was evident that its message was about enabling nations to control and govern the internet. According to GBTimes,Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), opened the third WIC with an aim to create a safe and secure cyberspace that protects both users and governments.
This year’s theme, as mentioned before, will discuss ways to develop commerce and sharing in the digital economy. The Zhejiang providence, the setting of the conference, is seen by China as its beacon of electronic developing, with much of the nation’s e-commerce, online retails and transactions taking place there. In a statement delivered by Xinhua net from the State Council of the PRC, it says that this year will strive to build a community of similar views towards cyberspace security with a respect of differences on the web. It also seeks to forge consensus on policies that produce welfare on the web through development and innovation.
However, the WIC’s aims to make the internet “better and safer” have not gone without some criticisms from abroad. Many accuse the WIC of facilitating government censorship and promoting violations towards net neutrality. Organizations such as Reporters without Borders and Freedom House have repeatedly slandered the safety net the WIC has tried to place on the net, with the latter watchdog organization rating China as an abuser of censorships towards internet freedom, reports Freedom House.
Additionally, local Chinese web users once mocked the third WIC due to its regulations. Patrick Poon, a researcher who works for Amnesty International, has gone on record saying that China’s goals “pose a real threat to the global and open nature of the internet,”.
Many US politicians have already disagreed with Senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy questioning Apple’s position amidst China’s policies towards censorship, when it was revealed that Apple had removed VPN apps from its China App Store, according to Bloomberg BNA. At the request of Chinese authorities, Tim Cook, Apple CEO, claimed he was acting in accordance to Chinese laws, and is by no means an advocate of China’s internet regulations.
It is not a newfound revelation that China practices internet restrictions, its practices are what have always defined China’s stance towards the internet. With the government working hand in hand with internet firms across the nation, China has repeatedly made efforts to block any websites do not align with the Communist Party of China’s interests and views. The restrictions go as far as omitting certain words from Chinese search engines. In 2015, as the events behind the Panama Papers were transpiring, the Chinese government had blocked the word “Panama” from all of its search engines and suggestion pages, reports BBC News.
The Chinese government, regardless of the accusations, continues to hold these events in the hopes of creating a viewpoint of the internet that everyone can agree with. As we get closer and closer to the event, tensions mount between firms like Microsoft and Alibaba, whose representatives will most likely attend this year’s WIC. Chinese leaders will use this conference as a banner for “internet sovereignty,” under which nations can regulate the network flow within their respective borders.