Reports on a rare public critique of the Communist Party’s internet policy by a senior official have been removed.

Luo Fuhe, vice-chair of the country’s top political advisory body – the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – introduced a proposal to improve the loading speeds of overseas websites on March 1, before the start of the country’s top political meetings.

A report on Luo’s proposal on the CPPCC’s news distribution site and an opinion piece criticising western coverage of his proposal from state tabloid The Global Times are no longer available. His comments were reported by overseas media including the Guardian and the BBC.

Luo Fuhe. Photo: China.org.cn.

A leaked directive posted by US-based China Digital Times issued on Saturday ordered all websites to delete reports on Luo’s “Proposal to Improve and Increase Speed of Access to Foreign Websites.” China Digital Times omitted the name of the issuing body to protect its source, and notes that the wording it published may not be exact, as directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors.

Luo said the slow speeds of overseas websites creates a huge impact on the country’s economic and social development and scientific progress.

30 minute loading times

“Visiting the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation website or many overseas universities’ websites from within the country is very slow,” he said, according to a cached version of a report on the CPPCC’s news distribution site.

”Click to view: The deleted report (Chinese)”

中国网北京3月2日讯(记者 张宁锐 吴知音) “第一个我们想谈一下境外网站访问速度的提案。” 全国政协大会即将开幕,全国政协副主席、民进中央第一副主席罗富和昨日下午特别向记者介绍民进中央的重点提案,其中一份是《关于改进和提高境外网站访问速度的提案》。罗富和表示,目前在我国境内访问境外网站的速度有愈加缓慢的趋势,这将给我国的经济社会发展和科学研究等方面造成极大的影响,需要引起高度关注,应通过增加国际网络出口宽带及设置境外网站访问权限负面清单等方式提高境外网站访问速度,满足开放发展的需要。
中共中央总书记习近平在中共十八届五中全会上系统论述了“五大发展理念”,其中开放发展是重要内容之一。但目前访问境外网站愈加缓慢,科研人员科研准确性、时效性无法从源头上得到保证问题,却与开放发展理念有背。

“在国内访问联合国粮农组织或很多国外大学网站速度很慢,每打开一个网页至少需要10-20秒的时间,有的国外大学网站需要半小时以上的时间才能打开”,罗富和说,目前在我国境内访问境外网站的速度有愈加缓慢的趋势,这将给我国的经济社会发展和科学研究等方面造成极大的影响,需要引起高度关注。

罗富和说,有些研究人员靠买翻墙软件到域外去检索,完成自己的科研任务,这个不正常。

民进中央调研发现,有的留学生回国探亲期间就因无法打开自己在国外就读的大学网站而无法完成相关表格的网上填报;有的在华工作的专家学者需要利用周末或假期去香港等地访问境外网站查询所需研究资料。在华企业对访问境外网站过慢也有意见,中国德国商会于2016年9月进行的本年度德国在华企业商业信心调查显示,网络的监管、访问境外网站时过慢的网速以及对知识产权保护的不足是制约德国企业在华经营的不利因素。近年,有台湾访问团来全国政协与主要领导座谈时也反映,他们进入大陆后很多网站无法正常访问。另外,有些国外著名的搜索引擎,在国内也存在无法正常打开的现象。访问境外网站“逢出就减”的问题需要重视。

对此,民进中央在《关于改进和提高境外网站访问速度的提案》中给出了如下建议:

一是增加国际网络出口带宽。加大网络服务硬件设施建设的投入与保障力度,加快海底光缆建设,进一步增加互联网国际出口带宽。同时,鼓励中国的通信企业、IT服务企业走出去,到海外建网络和服务器,提供基础网络和网络加速服务。

二是鼓励运营商更加注重计算机终端网速提升。大力发展提供国际间网络加速服务的供应商,鼓励网络运营商尽量兼顾计算机终端的网速问题,增加计算机网络服务的实际使用带宽,提高访问境外网站的速度。

三是设置境外网站访问权限的负面清单。对于与我国《互联网信息服务管理办法》、《中华人民共和国电信条例》等相关法律法规相抵触的网站内容,列入负面清单予以严格监管并屏蔽,禁止访问;对于非政治类网站,特别是专家学者和研究人员访问最多的境外大学和科研院所等网站,予以全面放开,定期抽查;对于中立性网站,比如搜索引擎、信息类、技术类等,对其中的部分敏感内容进行筛选,并定期抽查,以利于提高境外互联网资源的利用率。同时,力争实现负面清单精准到网页,做到对同一个网站不同内容的精准管控,区别对待。

“It takes at least 10-20 seconds to open each page, and some overseas universities’ sites need at least half an hour to load.”

He added that some researchers must rely on software to conduct searches outside of the firewall in order to complete their research tasks, which is not normal.

The press conference last week was held to introduce the key proposals of Luo’s party, the Chinese Association for Promoting Democracy (CAPD) – one of the country’s eight official parties that follow the leadership of the ruling Communist Party. It preceded the meetings of the National People’s Congress, China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, and the CPPCC, the top advisory body to the Congress.

The two meetings opened last weekend in Beijing. The sessions are a chance for CPPCC delegates to put forward proposals, which may be put to congress if they get enough support from NPC deputies and CPPCC members, though the CPPCC members do not have voting rights.

Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

The Communist Party oversees a vast network of technological and legislative controls – commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall” – which routinely block foreign websites including Google, Facebook and Twitter. Content seen as politically sensitive, violent or morally dubious is censored. Controls have further tightened under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

The CAPD’s proposal suggested allowing access to non-political websites, especially those used by researchers such as the websites of overseas universities and research institutes, while determining which websites are off-limits by compiling a blacklist that is closely monitored, as well as filtering sensitive information on search engines and technical sites to allow some usage of these sites.

It also recommended improving hardware to increase speeds such as constructing undersea cables and encouraging service providers to improve network speeds.

In January, the government announced a campaign to “clean up” internet service providers and crack down on virtual private networks (VPNs) used to get over the great firewall, making it illegal to provide VPN services without government approval.

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Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.