China’s President Really, Really Cares About Freedom Of Speech On The Web

AP Photo
The Associated Press

The President of China, Xi Jinping,  just gave a speech stressing the importance of free expression on the web. Yes, really.

Speaking at the Beijing-sponsored World Internet Conference in Zhejiang Province, Jinping said:

As in the real world, freedom and order are both necessary in cyberspace

Freedom is what order is meant for, and order is the guarantee of freedom. We should respect internet users’ rights to exchange ideas and express their minds and we should also build good order in cyberspace in accordance with law as it will help protect the legitimate rights and interests of all internet users.

Everyone should abide by the law, with the rights and obligations of parties concerned clearly defined. Cyberspace must be governed, operated and used in accordance with the law so that the internet can enjoy sound development under the rule of law.

Jinping’s doublespeak-laden speech came just days after the start of the trial of Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer who faces eight years in jail for making seven posts on social media that criticised the Chinese Communist Party. Prior to his arrest, Zhiqiang had acquired a wide audience – over 135,000 followers on Twitter.

Regardless, the true aim of Xinping’s speech, was to restate China’s commitment to what it calls “national cyber sovereignty” – or China’s right to shape its own, balkanized version of the internet.

We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber development and model of cyber regulation and participate in international cyberspace governance on an equal footing… 

Xinping also called on the international community to work together on internet security, and not undermine each others’ national security. However, Xinping may have difficulty convincing the west of his sincerity, given the regular, high-profile hacks of U.S. government data carried out by Chinese hackers. 

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