Chinese Officials Advocate “Internet Sovereignty”

by Tracy Knauer •

Chinese officials continued to push the concepts surrounding “Internet sovereignty” — a notion that reinforces online censorship — in high-profile talks in Seattle in September, showcasing the government’s interest in maintaining censorship activities.

Chinese authorities first introduced the concept of “Internet sovereignty” in 2010, shortly after Google made headlines by announcing that it would no longer do business in the country because of censorship laws. Use of the term in the media in China has increased steadily since then. It peaked in late 2014 before declining, but has been rising markedly again in recent months.

During the “tech forum” in Seattle that Chinese government representatives arranged ahead of a state visit to the United States in late September, they continued to argue for the importance of government intervention in cyberspace. Although the term “Internet sovereignty” itself did not feature in any official addresses, Chinese officials promoted the ideas behind it by calling for the United States and China to work together toward controlling content on the Internet — a goal that entails treating the Internet as a space into which individual governments can extend their authority.

American officials were reportedly troubled by the comments, which apparently diverged from the printed remarks that had been shared ahead of time with the Obama administration, according to the New York Times.

Chinese President Xi’s visit to the United States did not reveal specific strategies for increasing Internet censorship and surveillance, or detail how his government hoped the United States might contribute to the effort. Still, by merely arguing for government to play a greater role in policing online content, Chinese officials make clear their intention of treating the Internet as a space that can be censored and monitored within their jurisdictions in the same way that governments would control physical territory.

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