Beijing said Thursday it will push a “China solution” to global cyber governance after releasing its first strategy paper outlining a vision of the web where individual countries control the information that flows across their borders.

The roll out is part of an effort by Beijing to play a more active role in shaping the management of the internet, advocating what some critics have called a more atomised, less connected web.

internet freedom
Photo: Freedom House.

Beijing wants “to put forward a ‘China scheme’ or a ‘China solution’ for the tough issue of cyber governance,” Long Zhou, the coordinator of cyber affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters at a briefing on the document, which was released late Wednesday.

While China is home to the world’s largest number of internet users, a 2015 report by US think tank Freedom House found that the country had the most restrictive online use policies of 65 nations it studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.

But China has maintained that its various forms of web censorship — collectively known as “The Great Firewall” — are necessary for protecting its national security.

Sites blocked due to their content or sensitivity, among them Facebook and Twitter, cannot be accessed in China without special software that allows users to bypass the strict controls.

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping. Photo: World Economic Forum.

This January, Beijing launched a campaign to crack down on such tools, known as virtual private networks (VPNs).

The campaign came after the passing of a controversial cybersecurity bill last November, tightening restrictions on online freedom of speech and imposing new rules on service providers.

China has “accumulated experience” in internet management and plans to share its lessons with other countries, Long said, including Russia, which is seeking to tighten its own controls over the web.

Long played down concerns about China’s internet management, saying its measures do not conflict with citizens’ rights and the free flow of information.

“There is no absolute freedom in this world,” Long said.

“Cyberspace may be virtual, but the people who use it are real, so cyberspace must not be beyond laws.”

Citing the UN Charter’s sovereignty principle, the strategy paper denounces cyber hegemony and interfering in other countries’ internal affairs.

“Maintaining the peace and stability of this world is a priority,” for web governance Long said, warning that cyberspace should not become a “new battlefield.”

When asked about cyber attacks on the United States that allegedly originated from China, Long countered that China has itself been a victim of hacking.

“Unlike some other people,” he said, “we have not described ourselves as a victim every day and finger-pointed other countries and other people every day.”

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