Chinese leader Xi Jinping congratulated the World Internet Conference (WIC) through an official statement on November 9. The conference was held at the Wuzhen Exhibition Center, which has hosted the event since 2014. Several U.S. tech executives virtually attended the event, including the CEOs of IBM, Intel, and Cisco.

Invited guests, senior government officials, and business tech leaders gathered – as they have every year since 2014 – to discuss the governance model for global cyberspace. This year’s event took place against a backdrop of growing economic problems, a tighter regulatory environment in China, and rising geopolitical tensions between East and West.

At the opening ceremony, Xi called for global cooperation in the technology sector. In turn, he touted China’s cyberspace governance model, as it faces increasing U.S. restrictions on access to advanced technologies.

Meanwhile, the sheriff of the world continues to crack down on the CCP’s criminal behavior, restricting access to advanced technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence and advanced chips. The U.S. also has added a new wave of export restrictions in recent months in response to national security cyberattacks, and trade sanctions against Huawei Technologies and other Chinese tech companies have made it clear to the CCP that the security of the rule of law is nonnegotiable.

The CCP’s intentions

The new propaganda chief of the Chinese Communist Party, Li Shulei, is now in charge of enforcing communist regime’s ideology on cyberspace issues. The congratulatory letter he wrote for Xi stated, “International society must strengthen communications and collaborations to meet the challenges and opportunities brought by digitalization.Together, we can build a cyberspace that is more just, open, secure, and energetic.”

There is no doubt that the CCP has its sights set on exporting its model to the world. However, describing it as “fair, open, secure, and energetic” when its own cyberspace is anything but, only invites inferences about the true intentions of the communist regime.

In fact, Chinese cyberspace would be “fair” to whom? Fair to slot citizens into a preserve or ghetto, and “open” to what, censorship, “safe” for personal security or state security control? And “forceful” is a synonym for repression or heavy-handedness.

In the speech Li said, “Many discerning people have realized that the current global internet governance system still follows imperfect rules and unreasonable order.” He continued, “The existing rules of cyberspace governance are incapable of reflecting the wishes and interests of most countries.”

The CCP takes full advantage of the opportunities that an imperfect and unreasonably ordered cyberspace gives it.

What is the significance of the CCP internet watchdog’s statement that the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is meant to systematically expose China’s contributions to “building a community with a shared future in cyberspace”? And what characteristics can a totalitarian regime give to shared space?

There was hope in the tech community when the concept “shared future in cyberspace” was introduced by Xi in 2015, but to this day Chinese cyberspace remains not only isolated from the rest of the world, but the CCP uses its coercive power and censorship toward its own users.

Internet freedom? That does not exist in China

It is no coincidence that the word “freedom” does not appear in the speech prepared by the CCP for its leader. Freedom of expression is not allowed in China, in any of its versions, including the internet.

On Chinese Journalists’ Day, the regime’s propaganda apparatus sent an unequivocal message to the media: Be loyal, steadfast, and spread the word about the Party and the regime. The Communist Party’s official media, Xinhua, asked its subjects to remember the regime’s instructions: “Always be the disseminators of the Party’s ideas.”

Because the CCP’s State Administration of Press and Publication oversees and defines the development direction of China’s news industry, it is common knowledge in the media that all licensed journalists and editors are subordinate to the system, and that freedom of work is not viable.

Long Zhenyang, former assistant editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Commercial Daily, who used to work for Chinese state media, said that in the Chinese news industry, once a report deviates from the official will, it will be suppressed and social control is severe. He said, “If you still insist on journalistic ideals and professional ethics, you will only be imprisoned or subjected to all kinds of persecution.”

If the CCP environment conditions people to only disseminate content and express ideas that align with the communist regime, how can it be considered true that the cyberspace proposed by the CCP would allow spaces that empower citizens to create, disseminate, and share information.

If the technologies created to achieve the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are misused by the regime’s apparatus for military spying, surveillance, harassment, smear campaigns, and other violence and abuses against nations, businesses, users, journalists, and media, how can we believe that the cybersecurity that is part of governance could be secure?

Given that violence has existed as long as the CCP has existed, would it be credible for the Chinese regime to propose to the world a cyberspace free of these crimes that it perpetrates on a daily basis?

Digital freedom, cybersecurity, and geopolitics

The internet is supposed to be an ideal space for the exercise of freedom of expression. It allows people to be informed about everything that is of interest and they can express their opinions in a variety of ways.

Unfortunately, this is inconvenient for certain factions of the political, economic, and geopolitical power of the Chinese regime, and it is particularly interested not only in restricting freedom of expression, but also in manipulating the media at its disposal for strategic purposes.

Thus, the regime will use resources such as ideological influence through proposed content, closing accounts without prior notice, hacking personal data, and use personal information for military purposes.

The right to express oneself without prior censorship is fundamental for democratic development, so this principle must be protected and promoted. And that is why someone must be in charge of the cybersecurity of the digital space. At the moment, the country that has taken the most concrete action regarding the protection of the principles of freedom of expression and digital security is still the United States.

Totalitarian regimes by no means admit cyber freedom, so, in the case of the CCP, a digital space was created, completely isolated from the rest of the world, governed by the rule of communism: A severe restriction of freedom of expression.

While the background to the regulatory crackdown on Big Tech in China is not in plain sight, it has had an impact on the big players in the internet industry and their presence at the conference. Unlike the Chinese Big Techs, the world’s tech giants, which have great influence over consumers around the globe, are not just being regulated by the CCP.

The cybercrimes perpetrated by the CCP that undermined the security of the American and other countries’ rule of law, and the geopolitical tensions they caused, are aspects that cannot be ignored in order to assess the truth behind the Chinese proposal for the governance of cyberspace.

The fact that the communist regime is considered a global threat is central to assessing what place can be given to the power of communist China in the governance of cyberspace.

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