Beijing ‘pushing ahead with Internet sovereignty’

Beijing ‘pushing ahead with Internet sovereignty’

The worst for personal assistant Gao Xiangyu, 27, was when she could not access Google Calendar, which she relied on to manage her boss' schedule.

The Inner Mongolia native now has to personally remind her boss, the dean of a Shenzhen graduate school, of each and every one of his daily appointments.

But because her school needs to maintain e-mail contact with many American and European visiting professors, all of whom use Google Mail and Google Talk, she and her colleagues are in a bind.

"It's frustrating, but we are not sure what to do. Now, we are just waiting to see if this is permanent. If so, we will have to change our whole system," she said.

Ms Gao, like millions of other Chinese, has lost access to Google and all its Internet services and products since May 31 in what has been China's widest and longest crackdown on the American Internet giant ever.

While the Great Chinese Firewall has long kept American sites like Facebook and YouTube out of China, this latest block on Google - which observers suspect to be permanent - looks to be China's biggest push yet for a concept it calls "Internet sovereignty".

This is the idea that, like land and sea borders, the boundaries of Chinese cyberspace are the government's right to police and defend.

The Internet here is under the Chinese government's jurisdiction, this argument goes, and all who enter must abide by its rules.

Google has not had a mainland Chinese website since 2010 because it refused to give in to China's directives to filter its search results, and directed users to its Hong Kong site.

Google Mail was still mostly accessible, despite periodic blockages, and other products like Google Analytics and Adsense, widely used by Chinese e-commerce websites, were freely available - until now.

The Chinese government first issued a manifesto on "Internet sovereignty" in the form of a White Paper in 2010. But the idea - seen as propaganda for the Chinese government's desire to censor information from its citizens - gained little traction both internationally and among Chinese society, noted experts.

But in the past year, a series of events have fuelled international concern over US dominance of the Internet and bolstered China's resentment of its own reliance on American technology, and a determination to overcome this.

The chief factor, said observers, was the revelations last year by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that Washington conducts blanket cyber surveillance both domestically and internationally.

"The capabilities of the US in collecting information have been astounding to the Internet community and definitely shocking to governments such as China's, which do not have the same level of capability," noted Dr Ang Peng Hwa, director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University.

Within China, the revelations have been taken as proof that the US considers cyberspace "as one sphere of national security just like land, sea, air and space".

This was the way Mr Fang Binxing, known as the father of China's Great Firewall, put it in a recent editorial for party mouthpiece People's Daily: "In today's situation, a country's sovereignty is more and more embedded in its control of the Internet."

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