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Chinese President Calls for Greater 'Cyber Sovereignty'

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on November 21, 2016 10:14 AM

Chinese President Xi Jinping renewed calls for 'cyber sovereignty' last week, arguing that countries should be able to control the internet within their borders.

China, with an estimated 721 million citizens online, has more internet users than any other country. Yet those millions remain largely separated from the greater, global internet, confined by China's "Great Firewall," which keeps everything from specific Wikipedia entries to all of Google blocked under the country's internet censorship policy.

Keeping Control Over the Chinese Internet

President Xi made his cyber sovereignty comments in a video statement played at the opening of the Wuzhen World Internet Conference last Wednesday, calling for "more fair and equitable" web governance, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The state-run Wuzhen conference is organized by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country's internet censorship agency, yet manages to draw many of the world's leading technology companies. For example, Facebook was in attendance, despite being banned in China. Microsoft, IBM, Tesla, and other companies were also present.

This is not the first time Xi has used the conference to advocate for China's alternative view of the internet, however. Last year, Xi argued that China must have a role in creating rules for the global internet, including the right for countries to decide what content to censor or block, the BBC reported at the time.

A year before, China went beyond just advocating for greater control over the internet. It tried to force everyone else to sign on to its view as well. According to the Wall Street Journal's Eva Dou:

At the first Wuzhen conference in 2014, organizers slipped a note under guests' hotel-room doors asking them to sign on to a declaration in support of China's principle of internet sovereignty. The declaration was scrapped after some foreign guests protested.

The Great Firewall vs. the Open Internet

China's view of the internet differs sharply from the "open internet" ideal embraced by many western politicians and technology companies. Chinese internet regulations criminalize certain online speech, block internet content, and even prevent certain web searches.

Last year, China attempted to strength its grip over its cyber infrastructure even more, requiring certain technology venders to show that their products are "secure and controllable," and to provide their source code to the Chinese government, before they could be used in sensitive industries.

Still, President Xi didn't focus exclusively on control and "cyber sovereignty," the Journal reports. He also pledged to work internationally to "bring about an open, inclusive and secure cyberspace." Just as long as China can pick what's on it.

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