China Defends Great Firewall Against Trade Criticism

After U.S. trade officials added Chinese internet censorship to an official list of trade barriers last week, the has defended its internet censorship regime against the recent criticism. The CAC was launched in 2014 and is directly overseen by . Reuters’ Michael Martina reports:

“The aim of the internet security inspection system is to guarantee the security and controllability of information technology products and services, safeguard user information security, and strengthen market and user confidence,” CAC said in a fax to Reuters late on Friday.

“China scrupulously abides by World Trade Organization principles and its accession protocols, protects foreign enterprises’ lawful interests according to law, and creates a fair market environment for them,” the regulator said.

Censorship is mainly related to products and services that involve “national security”, it said. [Source]

State-run tabloid the has also defended the ever-reinforcing system known broadly as the as an essential defense against Western hegemony and attempts to undermine China on the ideological front:

It requires a sophisticated capability to impose online limits to a tiny number of foreign websites or their harmful content while at the same time retaining connectivity between China’s Internet and the world so as to ensure the global flow of information. China has achieved this – it can communicate with the outside world, meanwhile, Western opinions cannot easily penetrate as ideological tools.

[…] As the emergence and development of the Internet is accompanied by the economic and political evolution of Western society, the Internet has naturally inherited Western elements such as Western rules and order. The Great Firewall quelled Western intentions to penetrate China ideologically.

[…] Keeping its openness while exercising its own rights will be an equal principle for China’s Internet development in the long term, because both concern the core interests of Chinese society.

The West controls the value orientation and agenda setting on the platform of the Internet. Western opinion’s interference is aimed at making the Western-led rules and order dominate China.

The Chinese people should not be misled by the West. We need to realize the complex background when the Great Firewall emerged. The freedom of trade bears a great significance to world development, while it is the US that has set enormous impediments. [Source]

Hu Xijin, chief editor of the nationalist tabloid, recently attracted criticism from former Chinese diplomat Wu Jianmin for his publication’s tendency to publish “extreme” articles. The Global Times has previously been the target of similar criticism from domestic and foreign commentators over its attempts to troll foreign media.

While the Global Times editorial says that only a “tiny” number of foreign websites, themselves spreading “harmful” content, are limited by the Great Firewall, the report from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), as well as data gathered by anti-censorship organization GreatFire.org, suggests that claim is an understatement. From Reuters’ Paul Carsten and Michael Martina:

“Outright blocking of websites appears to have worsened over the past year, with eight of the top 25 most trafficked global sites now blocked in China,” the U.S. Trade Representative wrote in its annual report on foreign trader barriers.

“Over the past decade, China’s filtering of cross-border internet traffic has posed a significant burden to foreign suppliers, hurting both internet sites themselves, and users who often depend on them for their business,” the USTR said in the report, released last week.

[…] Under Xi, the government has implemented an unprecedented tightening of internet controls, and sought to codify the policy within the law.

[…] According to data from the anti-censorship group GreatFire.org, almost a quarter of the hundreds of thousands of web pages, domains, encrypted sites, online searches and IP addresses that it monitors in China were blocked as of early April.

That was up from 14 percent at the time Xi assumed the presidency. […] [Source]

ChinaFile is hosting a conversation on the USTR’s recent move to attack Chinese web censorship as a barrier to trade. The two contributors to the conversation so far see the move in different terms. While Tea Leaf Nation’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian says the USTR report “has no teeth” and does “little to lay the foundation for any future related case to be submitted to the WTO,” UC San Diego’s Susan Shirk praises it as a good move by the Obama administration:

Foreign governments have frustratingly few tools with which to influence domestic human rights practices in China. Our public statements criticizing the worsening repression of civil society and the mass media have little affect. When China bans Western newspapers or denies visas to journalists and scholars whose views it dislikes, we are reluctant to retaliate against Chinese journalists and scholars because we don’t want to further impede the free flow of information to Chinese people. My own experience working in the State Department from 1997-2000 taught me that American efforts to induce improvement in human rights by shaming China in international forums such as the U.N. Human Rights Commission, or linking human rights to other issues in the U.S.-China bilateral relationship, don’t succeed.

Calling the Great Firewall a trade barrier also has the benefit of being patently true. The barrier restricts market access for foreign media organizations and Internet companies. And it produces what U.C. San Diego China Internet scholar Molly Roberts calls “friction” in international communication and information that raises the cost of doing business in China for all firms, Chinese as well as international ones. Jumping over The Wall requires a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The Chinese authorities continually are harassing the VPNs and periodically shut them down entirely. As a result, searches for information and communications with an office overseas are exasperatingly slow and plagued by interruptions. China-based companies also are unable to take advantage of platforms for collaboration such as Google+ that have led to major improvements in efficiency for companies outside of China. […] [Source]

The Xi administration has since 2012 taken many steps to reinforce China’s censorship and online propaganda capabilities while simultaneously doubling-down on the long-held official opinion that the media is the “throat and tongue” of the Party.  Last month, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology posted ambiguously worded draft rules on internet domain name management, and foreign media responded by highlighting the worst-case potential reading of the draft: that it could effectively block access to all domains registered outside of China. While the ministry dismissed that interpretation as a “misunderstanding,” concerns echoed in foreign coverage. In an attempt to clear up some of the confusion, media policy scholar Rogier Creemers provides a brief explanation of how the domain name system operates, and how alarm over the draft rules—however justified—misses a main objective of the proposed regulations. From U.S.-China Focus:

It is tempting, and certainly justified, to see this measure as another step to expand the control of Internet authorities over online activities in China. Apart from Article 37, the draft regulations also expand real-name registration requirements, making it easier to identify alleged miscreants. But that is only one element of the story. There is also an economic rationale. are valuable assets, and requiring operators in the largest online market worldwide to obtain domain name registration services from local businesses redirects significant revenue flows.

Perhaps most importantly, these new regulations are a manifestation of what the Chinese leadership calls its Internet sovereignty. In the CCP’s reading, sovereignty does not merely refer to the ability to exclude foreign interference in domestic affairs, but also to having the capability to effectively implement governing authority all across its territory. In cyberspace as in real space, that authority primarily requires that individuals can be identified and, when necessary, sanctioned. These new rules make that process much easier where the ownership and operation of domain names is concerned. […] [Source]

Beijing has sought to defend increased internet censorship, known by the official euphemism “internet management,” against global criticism in terms of its right to “internet sovereignty.” As China’s capabilities continue to grow under Xi Jinping, Chinese web users have noted mounting frustration over an increasing difficulty to access foreign content essential for their jobs.