China to host first global Internet meet

China to host first global Internet meet

Well-known names and figures in the Internet world will gather next month in a historic town for the inaugural World Internet Conference, through which China hopes to show itself as a responsible player.

The Nov 19-21 summit will be held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. Mr Jack Ma's e-commerce giant, Alibaba, is headquartered in Hangzhou, also in Zhejiang.

Analysts say the meet also marks China's push for a bigger role in defining global Internet norms. They expect its philosophy of "Internet sovereignty" - the idea that, like land and sea borders, the boundaries of Chinese cyberspace are the government's right to police and defend - to feature heavily on the agenda.

It is in keeping with this doctrine that the Chinese government puts up a Great Firewall to stop its citizens from accessing Facebook and Twitter.

That this longstanding ban is at odds with the conference's goal to be a platform for closer international connectivity was one of the first questions posed to China's "Internet czar" Lu Wei at a press conference yesterday.

"I've never used these websites, so I don't know if they are banned," he said. "What I want to make clear is that our management is according to Chinese law and all the measures we take are for national security and the benefit of Chinese users."

Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was in Beijing, where he charmed Tsinghua University students with his rudimentary Mandarin.

Some saw his trip as "soft diplomacy" to pave the way for Facebook's entry into China.

Mr Lu, whose title is director of the Cyberspace Administration, said China is the "main victim of all cyber attacks" and is resolutely opposed to hacking, in answer to a question on when a Sino-US working group on cyber security that Beijing withdrew from in May would resume.

China acted after the US charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into US firms.

Mr Lu said that 80 per cent of the Chinese government's websites have been hacked before and 10,000 Chinese websites are maliciously tampered with every month. These attacks originated mainly from the US, he added.

While there are similarities and differences between the two countries on Internet governance, Mr Lu noted that the US delegation to next month's conference is the biggest of all, including representatives from the government, Internet companies and academia.

"They will be coming here to talk to us and I am sure we will find common ground and jointly safeguard US-China ties."

Among the 1,000 guests, officials and luminaries are Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers chief Fadi Chehade, Alibaba's Mr Ma and the heads of other Chinese Internet firms such as Baidu and Tencent.

"China will push its philosophy of Internet governance at the conference," said Shanghai Jiaotong University new media expert Wei Wuhui. "It is not that the US disagrees that laws must govern cyberspace, it's what and whose laws that is the question.

"The conference will be a good platform for this debate, but the focus will also be on business opportunities."

This article was first published on Oct 31, 2014.
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