Chinese internet mogul Jack Ma has echoed President Xi Jinping’s vision of building a “multilateral” and “harmonious” cyberspace “governed together” by different nations.

In a keynote speech at China’s World Internet Conference on Wednesday, Xi touted his government’s theory of “internet sovereignty.”

Xi delivers keynote speech at World Internet Conference. Photo: video screenshot.

“We should respect each country’s internet sovereignty, respect each country’s right to choose their own development path and management model of the internet, and we should respect countries’ rights to participate equally in public policy making of the international cyberspace.”

Speaking later at the conference, Ma praised Xi’s vision: “After listening to Chairman Xi’s speech today… I think sharing, multilateral, open, harmonious – these principles will be very impactful in the global cyberspace in the future. Open, sharing and transparent, these are the keys to [the] future administration [of the internet]. This is not only the government’s responsibility but everyone’s responsibility.”

Ma is one of around 600 Chinese entrepreneurs invited to the summit, now in its second year. The gathering, held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, has been shunned by Western nations but international companies such as Apple, IBM and others have sent representatives.

The Second World Internet Conference took place in Wuzhen, Zhejiang.

The most notable political guest was Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev while the prime ministers of Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and others also joined.

Critics are wary of Beijing’s efforts to increase its control over the internet, which is strictly censored and monitored in China.

“The grand title is misleading: the gathering will not celebrate the joys of a borderless internet but promote ‘internet sovereignty’, a web made up of sovereign fiefs, gagged by official censors,” said The Economist.

Earlier this week, a New York Times reporter said that their newspaper was excluded from the gathering.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has called upon technology companies to boycott the conference, saying that – if China is successful in influencing other countries on how to govern the internet – the crackdown on free speech and violations of human rights will become more rampant.

Ma’s Alibaba bought Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post this week. Faced with press freedom concerns, Ma has vowed to maintain the paper’s editorial independence.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.