A State Department official met with the czar of China’s infamous Internet censorship program in Washington DC yesterday, where she urged “co-operation” with the figure who helped implement prison sentences for online critics of the ruling Communist Party.
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli joined Lu Wei, minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China, at the China-U.S. Internet Industry Forum, which was attended by over 150 government officials and industry leaders from around the globe.
Newspaper reports after the conference focused on the speech given by Wei, who urged US companies to “respect” China’s draconian Internet laws or face being isolated from the market.
China routinely censors the Internet and cuts off access in order to hide evidence of government corruption and to cover up atrocities committed by the state, a process that Wei has personally overseen since 2011.
According to the New York Times, “On his watch, the government increased blocks on foreign websites and issued new regulations to restrict sharing on social media and increase censorship of popular online video sites.”
Wei also helped influence a Chinese Supreme Court decision which ruled that web users who posted content critical of the state deemed be a “false rumor” were personally responsible for the post if it received over 500 shares and could be subject to fines and jail time.
“Soon after assuming his most recent post, Lu issued a challenge to the country’s most popular social media users,” writes C. Mitchell Shaw. “The users he targeted are called the “Big V’s” because of their “verified accounts.” With some of them reaching millions of followers, they were a large thorn in the flesh of Lu and his censors. He ordered them to keep their posts “positive” and to take responsibility for them. When they did not heed his warning, he closed many of their accounts and limited others. At least one man, Charles Xue, an American businessman, was detained for months.”
The Cyberspace Administration of China “is now the most important governing organisation overseeing the web in China,” reports the South China Morning Post, adding that Wei’s office was “given greater powers” earlier this year.
Catherine Novelli responded to Wei’s call for US companies to accept China’s infamous system of web censorship not by decrying Beijing’s crackdown on free speech and its barbaric treatment of government critics, but by urging a closer relationship between the two countries on cyberspace issues.
“Novelli….said the United States and China should cooperate and are cooperating as the two countries share common interests on cyber issues,” reported Chinese state media outlet Xinhua.
“We have to work together and want to work together as friends and that’s how I think we should take things forward,” said Novelli.
In urging co-operation with Wei, Novelli provides further ammunition to those who have expressed worries that the White House is looking to implement severe restrictions on web freedom domestically.
Concerns over the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate the Internet have re-emerged recently after the White House threw its support behind plans to reclassify the web as a utility, bringing it under Title II of the Telecommunications Act and greasing the skids for FCC control.
Fears over an “Obama kill switch” for the web have circulated for years, with bills being previously introduced that would have provided the White House with extraordinary powers to shut down parts of the Internet under the auspices of national security.
Supporters of increased regulation like Senator Joe Lieberman have consistently cited Communist China as an example to the United States of how the government needs to be handed more power to control the world wide web.