Minitrue: Delete Attacks on World Internet Conference

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

Intercept, find, and delete content attacking the in Wuzhen on interactive platforms such as Weibo, blogs, public WeChat accounts, forums, and bulletin boards. Pay particular attention to examples containing the following keywords: World 404 Conference, World LAN Conference, World Satire Conference, Low-level Political Party Conference, New-era United Front Meeting, Low-level Organization Conference, Beggars’ Conference, World Spenders’ Conference. (December 3, 2017) [Chinese]

The fourth World Internet Conference opened in its annual home of Wuzhen on Sunday. The conference is a showcase to promote China’s view of internet governance: in a letter read out to welcome attendees, according to Xinhua, Chinese leader Xi Jinping expressed his hope to “work with the international community to respect cyberspace sovereignty” and build “‘a community of common future in cyberspace.'” This year’s event was the second to be overseen by cyberczar Xu Lin, whose predecessor Lu Wei was suddenly replaced last year and recently revealed to be under disciplinary inspection.

Among the highlighted key-terms, “World 404 Conference” (referring to the standard “content not found” HTTP error), “World LAN Conference,” and “World Satire Conference” all express the irony of hosting a “World Internet” meeting while increasingly restricting access to the global internet. “New-era United Front Meeting” refers both to Xi Jinping’s recently enshrined theoretical contribution to Party doctrine and to the Party’s “magic weapon” for furthering its influence at home and abroad. “Beggars’ Conference” mocks high profile figures such as ’s and ’s Sundar Pichai who have attended in apparent hope of winning Beijing’s favor; “World Spenders’ Conference,” on the other hand, alludes to a crudely homophonous expression of scorn for Chinese leaders’ generosity in dispensing it to foreigners, rather than China’s own people.

“Low-level Political Party Conference” and “Low-level Organization Conference” both allude to the originally official term “low-level population,” which became the target of a backlash and an expression of solidarity during recent migrant evictions in Beijing. These terms appear to refer to a 4-day meeting of international political parties in Beijing, which concluded on Sunday, rather than to the Wuzhen conference.

The Washington Post’s Simon Denyer reported mixed reactions to “beggar” Tim Cook’s presence:

“The theme of this conference — developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits — is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said, in widely reported remarks. “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”

Chinese media welcomed Cook’s endorsement, with the nationalist Global Times declaring in a headline that “Consensus grows at Internet conference.”

[…] “Cook’s appearance lends credibility to a state that aggressively censors the internet, throws people in jail for being critical about social ills, and is building artificial intelligence systems that monitors everyone and targets dissent,” Maya Wang at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong wrote in an email.

“The version of cyberspace the Chinese government is building is a decidedly dystopian one, and I don’t think anyone would want to share in this ‘common future.’ Apple should have spoken out against it, not endorsed it.” [Source]

The Associated Press’ Kelvin Chan presented more reactions:

“The problem is that these companies are between a rock and a hard place,” said Rogier Creemers, a China researcher at Leiden University who attended the conference. They covet China’s huge market but if they do make it in, as in Apple’s case, local law “requires things that Western observers generally are uncomfortable with,” he said.

[…] The tech giants may have chosen to appear at the conference because the current political climate in the United States encourages a pragmatic approach in pursuing business regardless of other concerns, said Jonathan Sullivan, director of the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute.

“There has never been a time when an American company is less likely to be called out by the White House for pursuing a business-first approach,” said Sullivan. [Source]

Cook’s presence at the conference follows soon after two other China controversies for Apple. The Financial Times’ Yuan Yang reported that students were being coerced into working illegal overtime to build Apple’s iPhone X, prompting a swift change of policy from contract manufacturer Foxconn. The same week, it emerged that Apple had removed Microsoft’s Skype app and hundreds more VPN apps from its Chinese App Store, reviving a storm of criticism at earlier VPN removals over the summer.

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Paul Mozur focused on an address by new Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning, who made his most prominent public appearance to date since his elevation. Wang had been dubbed a “hidden ruler” of China for his role in shaping Party ideology under three successive generations of leaders.

Known as the brain behind President Xi Jinping, Wang Huning made his first major speech since joining the Politburo Standing Committee, the seven-member group that rules China, at a conference created to show off the country’s technological strengths to the world.

Well known for his icy remove and support of authoritarianism, Mr. Wang called for security and order on the internet as part of five proposals he made to guide the future of cyberspace. He also emphasized China’s technological prowess, and said more should be done by the government to guide the development of new industries like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

[…] On Sunday, Mr. Wang praised China’s president for his “deep understanding” of internet governance. He said the international community had “warmly received” Mr. Xi’s ideas about the internet, including the concept of cybersovereignty — a Chinese policy term used to argue that countries should be free to control the internet within their borders, even if it means censoring. [Source]

Mozur and several others have been tweeting from the conference:

A previous directive ordered sites to “control malicious commentary” on Zuckerberg’s March 2016 visit to China.

Another previous directive barred live coverage of the Ke Jie vs AlphaGo match.

A Xinhua commentary during last year’s conference described how Xi had “arrayed the troops” in order to “make China an internet superpower,” concluding that “given his all-encompassing vision for internet governance, and his total insight, to call Xi Jinping an ‘internet sage’ is entirely justified.”

Read more on China’s emerging cyber governance system from Samm Sacks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and on the “evolving and interlocking framework” forming “a wider Chinese effort to govern cyberspace and secure the country’s digital infrastructure” from Sacks, Triolo, Webster, and Creemers at New America.

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.