This week, China hosted its first World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. The irony of a country with some of the strictest online censorship laws in the world holding an event with the theme “interconnected world, shared and governed by all” was underscored yesterday, when the events’ organizers made a pro-forma attempt to get attendees to approve a draft declaration by slipping it under their hotel room doors late at night.
TechCrunch has obtained a copy of the document, which is supposed to represent the consensus views of conference participants. A PDF is embedded at the bottom of this post.
Among other things, the draft declaration calls for countries to respect each other’s “Internet sovereignty,” impose stricter restrictions on online pornography, and “destroy all dissemination channels of information of violent terrorism.”
The document is both hilariously farcical and unsettling in light of China’s crackdowns on Internet freedom and its cyberattacks on media outlets and government organizations in other countries.
Our source says that the draft was put under hotel room doors around 11PM, giving attendees until only 8AM the next morning to make revisions before it’s planned release at today’s closing ceremony [UPDATE: the declaration was not released after all]. Furthermore, attendees began checking out last night since the conference’s main events took place on Wednesday and Thursday.
Top executives from Chinese tech firms, including Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, as well as representatives from Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, LinkedIn, and non-profit organization ICANN attended the conference.
The World Internet Conference, which started on Wednesday and ends today, was organized by the State Internet Information Office (SIIO). The SIIO was set up in 2011 to coordinate various agencies after then-president Hu Jintao called for the government to ramp up its oversight of online content and activity.
Here are the choicest excerpts from the draft.
It opened with a cover letter, signed by the World Internet Conference’s organizing committee:
“Thank you for your participation in the First World Internet Conference and your contribution to its success. During the Conference, many speakers and participants suggest [SIC] that a Wuzhen declaration be released at the closing ceremony. In light of the views of various sides, we have made this draft declaration. If you want to make revisions to it, please contact the organizing committee before 8 a.m. on 21 November 2014. (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).”
The draft declaration starts off by stating:
“Participants in the Conference acknowledge that the Internet is increasingly becoming a leading force of innovation-driven development and is powering economic and social progress. The Internet has turned the world into a global village and made the international community a highly interdependent community of common destiny. While enjoying rapid development, the Internet has posed new challenges to national sovereignty, security and development interests, which requires the international community to meet urgently and seriously expand consensus and strengthen cooperation.
We call on the international community to work together to build an international Internet governance system of multilateralism, democracy and transparency and a cyberspace of peace, security, openness and cooperation.”
It then went on to list nine suggestions. The most ridiculous and mealy-mouthed are below.
“Second, respect Internet sovereignty of all countries. We should respect each country’s rights to the development, use and governance of the Internet, refrain from abusing resources and technological strengths to violate other countries’ Internet sovereignty, and build an Internet order to equality and mutual benefit.”
Translation? “Hands off our Great Firewall.”
“Third, jointly safeguard cyber security. We should actively cope with challenges to cyberspace security and reject all forms of cyber attacks and Internet theft. We should work together to fight cyber crimes, protect individual privacy and information security, and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of citizens.”
This item is especially egregious considering China’s well-documented history of launching cyberattacks against international media outlets, military, and government organizations. The director of the U.S. National Security Agency (admittedly not itself a glowing example of good behavior), Admiral Mike Rogers, recently said that China, along with “probably one or two” other countries, has the power to possibly shutdown the U.S.’s Internet infrastructure, including the computer systems of public utilities, aviation networks, and financial companies.
Media outlets China has spied on recently include the New York Times and Next Media. Next Media, one of Hong Kong’s largest media companies, has long been a target of the Chinese government, but attacks on its computer systems have increased since the start of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which Next Media founder Jimmy Lai has openly supported.
“Fourth, jointly fight cyber terrorism. We should work for the establishment of an international cooperation mechanism against cyber terrorism to fight cyber terrorism together and destroy all dissemination channels of information of violent terrorism.”
China has arguably used terrorism prevention as an excuse to exercise even tighter control on its residents’ access to online information and services. For example, in August the Chinese government blocked several messaging apps, including Line, KakaoTalk, Talkbox, Vower, and Didi, claiming that the services were being used to spread terrorism-related information. But Line’s blockage may have in fact have been triggered by the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
As Qiao Mu, a professor journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Financial Times: “This alleged link between terrorism and these messaging apps is pretty far-fetched. On the whole, it sounds like they are using antiterrorism as an excuse to ban foreign apps, which are harder for the government to control.”
It’s not just foreign Internet services and apps being targeted under the guise of counter-terrorism. The Chinese government also launched a campaign against popular microblogging platform Weibo (formerly Sina Weibo) last year, citing similar reasons.
Last year, Weibo’s user base fell 9 percent to 280.8 million from 308.6 million the year before. This is partly because many users are shifting to more private messaging apps like Tencent’s WeChat, but also because of stricter laws like one that threatens social media users with three years in jail if a message that the government deems to be an “online rumor” is shared more than 500 times or seen by more than 5,000 users.
“Seventh, widely spread the positive energy. We should carry forward and promote fine cultures and produce more digital cultural products of high quality, in order to meet people’s cultural needs and give a sense of belonging to mankind in cyberspace.”
It must be a bit difficult to feel a “sense of belonging to mankind in cyberspace” when you are trapped behind the Great Firewall and have to rely on VPN services to access sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Next Media, the BBC or the New York Times.
“Eighth, dedicate to the healthy growth of young people. We should strengthen the protection of minors online, crack down on the spread of pornography and violence, and make sure that the Internet does not damage the future of mankind.”
China’s regulations against online pornography have been particularly severe. In 2009, more than 15,000 sites with pornographic content were shutdown. The crackdown intensified this year. In the spring, China’s internet regulator launched a sweep called the “Clean Internet Campaign” that included the closure of three online literature sites that it claimed hosted obscene content. Penalties for posting pornographic content online for profit include sentences of up to three years in jail.
This isn’t just about the “healthy growth of young people.” Anti-pornography laws make it even harder to share information on the Internet by giving the Chinese government more leeway in the kinds of sites it is allowed to target and shutdown. The “Clean Internet Campaign” came soon after the banning of messaging apps mentioned above, as well as the Weibo crackdown.
We’ve emailed the World Internet Conference at email@example.com and will update this post if we hear back from them.