China’s President Xi Jinping laid out his vision for the Internet on Wednesday, calling for respect of different governance models and standardized online security, placing China at the front of debates on online control and sovereignty.
“Each country should join hands and together curb the abuse of information technology, oppose network surveillance and hacking, and fight against a cyberspace arms race,” Xi told China’s second World Internet Conference.
Major Internet players such as Facebook, Microsoft, and China’s Alibaba attended the conference.
Since Xi took China’s helm in early 2013, he has presided over a centralization of domestic Internet governance and broader efforts to control, and often censor, the flow of information online, experts say.
Those efforts are aimed at maintaining stability, a lack of which the Communist Party sees as a direct threat to its rule.
China infamously operates the ‘Great Firewall’, the world’s most sophisticated online censorship system. That system uses tools to block – and as of this year also attack – Internet services the government deems unsavory, and employs manual labor to scour and scrub edgy and unwanted commentary from domestic web services.
Hacking has been a sore spot in U.S.-China relations. On Sept. 25, President Barack Obama said he and Chinese President Xi had agreed that neither government would knowingly support cyber theft of corporate secrets to support domestic businesses.
The agreement stopped short of restricting spying to obtain government secrets, including those held by private contractors.
Critics of China’s internet governance have said foreign tech companies should not lend Beijing credibility by agreeing to comply with its policies.
“Tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Microsoft, must be prepared to say no to China’s repressive internet regime and put people and principles before profits,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia research director at Amnesty International, in a press release on Tuesday.
Others, including press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders and China censorship watchdog GreatFire.org, called for a boycott of China’s World Internet Conference.
The World Internet Conference attracted executives from Chinese and U.S. tech giants. Last year, the event was used as a platform for Beijing to map out a vision for governance and control of the Internet.
From the United States, the roll call of companies at the conference in the eastern city of Wuzhen included Facebook Inc , Microsoft Corp, IBM Corp, LinkedIn Corp and Netflix Inc.
China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Tencent Holdings Ltd, Baidu Inc, JD.com Inc and Xiaomi Inc were also in attendance.