It came as no surprise to most people when the latest edition of the ‘Freedom on the Net’ report ranked China as the worst abuser of online freedoms in the world for the third year running. But China’s online regulator has taken umbrage with the claims and rolled out their ludicrous internet sovereignty arguments to try and back up his point.
China – ‘We should not just make the internet fully free’
Ren Xianliang, who is the Communist Party’s vice minister for the Cyberspace Administration of China explained to journalists that “We should not just make the internet fully free, it also needs to be orderly.” He gave nothing more substantial to back up his statement which goes against the views of almost every internet expert and most internet users too.
He then had the audacity to try and criticise the USA and European nations for their spreading of false information on the internet. “The United States and Europe also need to deal with these fake news and rumours,” he stated.
It is certainly true that the Freedom on the Net report did highlight the issue of the spreading of false information online as a growing problem. The report claimed that of the 65 countries they assessed, the spreading of disinformation had been carried out by 30 of them. They also said content manipulation had played an important role in elections in 18 different countries.
Fake news has its origins in China
However, it then went on to say how this technique began in China. Michael J. Abramowitz, President of Freedom House, the NGO behind the report said at its release, “The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russia.”
The Director of the Freedom on the Net project, Sanja Kelly, then went on to say that it was a growing problem precisely because it was widely used by China and Russia and other non-democratic nations were willingly learning from them.
It is, therefore, a bit rich for China to say the west needs to sort out an online issue which they created and continue to propagate. Ironically, this comment could be seen as a classic example of ‘fake news’ in itself.
China’s myriad of online abuses
The reason that China has topped the Freedom on the Net worst offenders list for three successive years is quite simply because the Communist regime of President Xi Jinping has been systematically undermining what few rights China’s netizens still had over that period.
Their latest move is to try and ban VPNs in the country in an effort to stop people using them to get around the Great Firewall, their comprehensive online censorship programme which is rumoured to employ more than million people.
This new law has yet to come into effect, so it remains to be seen how it will work in practice. But regular users will be aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Rarely a week goes by when another story of Chinese online oppression doesn’t come out. And bearing in mind how hard it can be to get hold of negative stories about the Chinese regime, that is a remarkably high number.
Next month, the Chinese Regime will once again be hosting their so-called ‘World Internet Conference’. This showpiece event is used by the Communist regime as a platform to try and normalise their oppressive online tactics in the eyes of the international community and the tech world.
The danger of normalising the Chinese stance on internet sovereignty
Big tech firms often do send senior representatives to this event as they try and crack the hugely lucrative Chinese market. This is despite the fact that many of these tech companies are actually blocked in China by the very censorship programme the Chinese Government is espousing.
High-level government representation is usually present from other authoritarian and non-democratic nations which support the Chinese stance on so-called ‘internet sovereignty’ and the UN is usually well-represented too.
But it is vital that the tech community and the free world makes it clear to China that their stance on online freedoms in anything but acceptable. The concept of an ‘orderly’ internet, as Ren Xianliang argues for, is impossible because what he means by that is an internet that behaves how authority wants them too.
But the internet has always been a bastion of free speech and freedom of expression. And while the current situation in the US and Europe is anything but perfect, it is still considerably better than the bleak vision presented by Ren Xianliang and his Communist Party colleagues.