China Internet Policy Recommendation forthe Asia FoundationMonica ChanJune 24, 2013
I. IntroductionChina currently has the world’s largest number of internet users. Since the country’sintroduction to the Internet connection established in 1994, there has been an annual increase of20 to 30 percent of users (China Education and Research Network 2001). This is occurring in anera where technology has become an important part of China becoming a major leader andplayer in the global market. China’s lead in the global market has been primarily due to DengXiao Ping’s 1970s “gaifekai fang” (reform and opening) of the economy as well as the country’sintroduction to the World Wide Web.While China embraces the web as a vital communications tool to participate in the globalmarket economy, there is a strong link between the use of the internet and human rights. Thedevelopment of the internet in China has raised concerns in the United States due to issuesrelated to human rights, cyber security, and trade and investment. Since the People’s Republicof China was founded in 1949, the Chinese government has been accused of barring andmanipulating the flow of information to Chinese citizens. This is a strategy that allows theChinese government to maintain and control cultural boundaries that emphasizeson a Communistparty view.While many sites are blocked by China’s internet firewall, the development of VPNtechnology allows Chinese citizens to view news sources, access blogs, and visit sites thatchallenge Chinese cultural boundaries. Out of fear, the Chinese government has implementedcounter censorship software that is used to control internet information flow that is allowed intothe country. Strict guidelines, policies, and regulations were implemented to prevent “harmful”or politically sensitive materials to flow on the internet that may be critical to the Chinesegovernment. This means that there are strict regulations on what is being aired from domestic
and foreign news both online, on television, and in print. Sensitive topics include religiousgroups such as the Falun Gong, Taiwan, Tiananmen Square, Tibet, corrupt governmentofficials,human rights violations, and public health crises such as the April 2003 SARS outbreak.II. The Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress onMaintaining Internet SecurityIn efforts to control sensitive information from being exposed, to protect internetoperations, as well as to encourage the use the internet for economic development, the Chinesegovernment implementedthe internet policy decision titled“The Decision of the StandingCommittee of the National People’s Congress on Maintaining Internet Security.” This documentcomprises of laws and regulations that ban “harmful” information and aims at “safeguard[ing]internet operations” for the interest of the public to maintain order and stability (NationalPeople’s Congress 2). The Chinese government currently struggles with conflicting views onkeeping an open door internet policy for the purpose of competing with other nations in theglobal economic market as well as maintaining cultural roots/boundaries that align with the“Chinese way.”The policy document was passed on December 28th, 2000, by the Standing Committee of theNational People’s Congress. According to the Decision, it is the government’s role to “safeguard”internet operations by preserving Chinese communist culture and at the same time fostereconomic growth (National People’s Congress 2). The following are several policies under thefirst and second provisionsthat are considered crimes against the state:1. Invading computer systems that have confidential information about state affairs, statedefense2. Causing and spreading computer viruses and creating destructive programs that attackother computer communications systems causing damage to system wide networks.
3. Spreading information, rumors, and slander over the internet for the purpose ofoverthrowing the state government, “overthrowing the socialist system,” or breakingup/destroying the country’s unity4. Stealing and/or leaking classified government and military information via the internet.5. Using the internet to ruin racial and ethnic unity as well as ignite racial or ethnic hatred.6. Using the internet to organize cults or contacting cults to “destroy racial and ethnic unity”(National People’s Congress, 1-2)These policies aim at protecting the state, its classified information, as well asgovernmentsecurity systems. While the rules outlined are stated to be applicable to “legal persons” in theChina, the wording through the document is vague and leaves room for misinterpretation for whoa “legal person” is. According to GadyEspstein of Forbes magazine, there are millions ofundocumented workers in China who are contributing to the economic system but are notconsidered “legal.” Also, what constitutes as “destroying the country’s unity” and using theinternet to “ruin racial and ethnic unity” is not well defined (Epstein 2010). What comprises ofChina’s ethnic unity and who is part of the racial category?While the People’s Republic of China officially recognizes 55 ethnic groups in China, theHan constitute as the majority (Wessendorf 244). Currently, heightened tensions between Hanand Non Han Chinese exist especially in the Western Xinjiang province of China whereincreased ethnic tension due to social and economic division arecausing provincial instability.Ina report by the Guardian in June 2013, eleven Uighurs were jailed and/or fined for “onlineextremism”. The report states that one Uighur was jailed for downloading material that“whipped up religious fervour and preached holy war “ and whipped up ethnic enmity” (TheGuardian 2013). Two people were also fined and jailed for 15 days for posting extremistmaterials on a blog,while and another Uighur was jailed and suspected of spreading materials onthe internet that “advocated religious extremism and terrorism” (The Guardian 2013). This wasconsidered in direct violation of the Decision’s regulation and policies of destroying the
country’s unity. The question that is raised is whether or not the offending one of the 55 ethnicgroups is considered part of destroying ethnic unity if and when a Han Chinese uses the internetto slander a minority group.In examining the third provision of the Decision, the policies are centered on crimesagainst any disruptions towards the government’s maintenance of a socialist market economyand social management. Several of these policieslist crimes against creating and falsifyinginformation through the internet about activities about the stock market, ruining people’sbusiness reputation via the internet, and creating and providing links to pornographic sites.The fourth provision focuses on protecting the physical and property rights of legal persons bydeeming the following as crimes: insulting people or creating stories online, changing, deleting,or interfering in other people’s e-mails and activities, and stealing over the internet. What is notclear in this particular provision is whether or not it is illegal for the government to “interfere” inpeople’s e-mails and/or activities without just cause.The fifth provision states that “those who commit crimes, other than the listed fourcategories via internet, shall also take criminal responsibility in accordance with criminal lawstipulations” (National People’s Congress 2) This statement is very ambiguous as it allows thestate to charge a citizen with criminal offenses for crimes that are not listed in the Decision.What constitutes as a crime in this provision is not defined and suggests that modificationsand/or additions to the law can be made at any time to be used against political dissidents.III. Cultural ModelAll of the provisions in the policy documentare themed around a nationalist-culturalmodel where it is the government’s interest to intervene in creating the cultural identity of thecountry. It is the state’s role to set regulations on what information is communicated to Chinese
citizens through determining what types of information is deemed as appropriate or destructive.Individual citizens do not have the right to decide on what content on the internet is available tothe public.Based on content regulation of the state, the policies in this document assume that it is thestate’s role is to protect and safeguarded the nation’s internet communications activities in orderto maintain social stability. To undermine the stability by spreading rumors on the internet, evenit were the truth would be to infringe on the state’s goal of solidifying the nation’s culturalidentity.IV. Implications for international relationsWhile China has been a member of the World Trade Organization since December of2001,China’s internet censorship policies have instigated criticisms and pressures fromcompanies in countries such as the United States (BBC News 2001). The world’s largest searchengine, Google, had asked Western governments to pressure the Chinese government on itsinternet censorship rules and regulations. The company claimed that China’s internet policies notonly create human rights problems butalso creates trade barriers to international countries.David Drummond, Google’s Chief Legal Officer stated that the United States and Europe shouldput pressures on the Chinese regime on their internet restrictions because it has “disadvantaged”multinational companies and that government talks are the only way where China’s tight internetpolicy restrictions can be revised (Clendenin 2013).Despite international pressures on easing internet regulation, China’s released the firstever White Paper on Internet regulation/policy in 2010. While the document guarantees freedomof speech on the internet, it also states that certain information cannot be produced or spreadsuch as contents that “subvert state power,” “undermine national unity,” “infringe uponnational
honor and interests,” and “incite ethnic hatred and secession” (Xinhua 2010). The White Paperdoes not give specific examples of what types of content within these categories would bebanned or considered a criminal offense.Currently, China is under scrutiny from the international community for implementinginternetpolicies that are vague and centeredon censorship. In response, the United States iscurrently proposing strategies that promote China’s global internet freedom. While completenetwork neutrality in China is currently impossible, internet freedom initiatives in the U.S. aresuggesting that China’s internet policies shift can from a completely government controlledmodel to a more transparent one. According to Christine Stover, China is exemplary of agovernment control model where the state has complete control over how the internet isregulated (Stover 82). Filtering of what information is searched on, and what information flowsin and out of the country is heavily controlled by the Chinese government. In an attempt toaddress China’s issues of heavy internet regulation, working beyond borders internationallywould help address internet censorship issues.Currently, several companies have joined together to form the Global Network Initiative(GNI). GNI aims at promoting ethical practices related to U.S. companies in countries wherethere is heavy internet censorship or internet regulations that impede on human rights. The GNIadopted a set of guidelines that regulate how they do business and at the same time “protect andadvance freedom of expression and the right to privacy when faced with pressures fromgovernments to take actions that infringe upon these rights (Lum, Figliola, Weed 9). While GNIis focused on setting realistic goals and maintaining “real incentives,” human rights advocatesaccuse GNI of being too broad in their guidelines.
Other attempts of U.S. promoting internet freedom include The State Department’sglobal human rights initiative to promote “a single Internet where all humanity has equal accessto knowledge and ideas” (Lum, Figliola, Weed 9).A task force called the NetFreedom wascreated in 2006 for the purposes of policy outreach for internet freedom. This taskforce isorganized by the Secretary State for Democracy and Global Affairs, the Bureau of Democracy,Human Rights and Labor. The goals of Netfreedom include reporting and monitoring internetfreedom in foreign countries; report on findings in the State Department’s Country Reports onHuman Rights Practices, as well as use bilateral diplomacy to respond to Internet Freedomthreats (Lum, Figliola, Weed 11).V. RecommendationsSimilar to the policy recommendations from the Global Network Initiative as well as theState Department’s NetFreedom task force, international nonprofit foundationssuch as the AsiaFoundation can create policies that are dedicated to economic and technological governance.The proposals put forward in this report are in accordance with the Asia Foundation’s Chinapolicy chapter’s goals. The following arethree main policy themes that should be consirered informulating and/or modifying the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’sCongress on Maintaining Internet Security:1. Education/Outreach2. Industry and Trade3. Flow of accurate informationIn terms of education/outreach, the Asia Foundation can implement programs that spreadawareness of China’s current media policy and its impacts on Chinese citizens.Continuingdialogue from these educational programs can help to outline policy deficiencies and
their solutions. Currently, China is focused on developing bilateral relations with manydeveloped countries for trade and cultural expansion. The Asia Foundation programs will serveas a platform for communicating the reservations of these countries on China’s internet policy tothe Chinese government.Since China’s internet policy has significant direct and indirect impacts on industry andtrade, it is important for the Asia Foundation to develop groups/task forces similar to the GlobalNetwork Initiative. The goal of these task forces will be to develop specific guidelines forbusinesses regarding policy compliance as well as best practices for conducting online businesswith China. The current restrictions on information flow in China marginalize the ability ofChinese citizens to obtain information that is relevant to their fundamental rights. The AsiaFoundation will develop a series of dialogues with corporations, foundations, and nonprofitorganizations that have bilateral relations with China to discuss ongoing efforts on how topromote and encourage accurate information flow with their Chinese partners. With these efforts,the Asia Foundation can provide solutions through participation and multi-stakeholderconsultations.
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