AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Chinese President Xi Jinping will address heads of state and major technology firms at a gathering this week in a small east China town. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, the second World Internet Conference may shed light on China's ambition to become a great power in cyberspace.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hosting the meeting is head of China's cyberspace administration, a former journalist named Lu Wei. He accompanied President Xi Jinping to the U.S. this fall where he met with tech CEOs, including Apple's Tim Cook and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. At a recent press conference, Lu denied that China censors the Internet, even though it's a widely known fact. He added that China manages the Internet, as does every country's government.
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LU WEI: (Through interpreter) We learned our management of the Internet from Western developed nations, and I can tell you that we have still not learned enough.
KUHN: He admitted that China blocks some foreign websites, but he unapologetically asserted China's right to pick its friends and its business partners.
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WEI: (Through interpreter) We do not welcome those who make money from China and occupy our market while slandering us. No family likes to invite unfriendly people to be their guests.
KUHN: China blocks many websites without which the Internet would be unimaginable in the West - Twitter, Facebook, The New York Times and YouTube. Cyber czar Lu added, though, that controlling the Internet is about as easy as - as he put it - nailing Jell-O to the wall.
Indeed, despite heavy censorship, political commentary about the trial of a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer and other news still made it onto Chinese social media this week. Beijing-based media scholar Zhan Jiang says that a lot of the struggle for control of online political speech is actually going on inside the Communist Party itself. Xi Jinping himself has admitted that he's stalemated in his struggle against corrupt officials.
ZHAN JIANG: (Through interpreter) This shows that Xi's opponents are strong. They may try to smear him. And he may need to release information about them. So the matter of who controls the discourse is very important.
KUHN: Jiang, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, says that China's vision of an Internet divided into separate national networks - a splinternet as some call it - is not what the Internet is really about. He says China has no plans to push its model of Internet management on other countries.
JIANG: (Through interpreter) If it exists, it's not their main idea. They're facing an increasingly complex domestic environment and they've got their hands full managing that.
KUHN: At last year's conference, the hosts circulated a draft declaration that called for each nation's Internet sovereignty to be respected. The draft reportedly failed to garner much support. Internet czar Lu Wei said at his press briefing that they won't bother with such a declaration this year. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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