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China to continue its carrot and stick approach to Big Tech regulation

Beijing will stick to the concept of “development and regulation in parallel” for internet platform operators, an official from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said at a press conference on Monday.

The tone of the comments confirmed that the strict regulation in place since 2020 on online platforms including e-commerce sites, social media and short video operators will continue.

“It is our important duty to encourage and support the healthy and sustainable development of internet platform enterprises,”said Wang Song, head of CAC’s information development division.

“We carry out daily supervision of the behaviour of internet platform enterprises in accordance with the law, and if there is outstanding chaos there, we will also take special management action to ‘clear’ [cyberspace].”

The CAC has in recent years established itself as an authority over the veracity of online information. It has conducted several rounds of online campaigns, under the name of “clearance”, to review and crack down on online content that the state deems harmful or inappropriate.

Monday’s press conference also addressed issues including foreign enterprises in China and US sanctions on certain Chinese technology companies.

Qi Xiaoxia, the director of CAC’s international cooperation unit, said that “China can only be more open” and that it treats Chinese and foreign enterprises “fairly and equally”.

However, Qi criticised US trade sanctions on Huawei Technologies Co and other Chinese technology companies.

“The reason why Chinese enterprises such as Huawei are restricted in overseas development is clear: a certain country abuses export control measures to maliciously block and suppress Chinese enterprises under the pretext of ‘national security’, which undermines the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises,”, said Qi.

CAC deputy head Cao Shumin said that China is an active collaborator in terms of cyberspace administration, including with Russia and some European countries. It has partnered with 274 internet emergency response organisations across 81 countries and regions for cybersecurity management, said Cao.

CAC also released a white paper on how China builds and regulates its cyberspace at the press event. Qi said that China’s proposals are more open, cooperative and inclusive, when compared with the “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” published in April by the US and 60 other states.

China believes that cyberspace belongs to all nations and should be managed by every country, instead of just one, said Qi.

The CAC white paper outlines an approach based on four principles: respect for network sovereignty, maintenance of peace and security, openness and cooperation, and ensuring good order.

Instead, the Declaration for the Future of the Internet “draws ideological lines and creates ‘small circles’”, said Qi, adding it would “make divisions and confrontation, which violates international rules”.

China has stepped up its scrutiny of online content in recent years, cracking down on gambling, pornography, and general content it deems harmful to its citizens, and has exhorted online platforms to promote values that are harmonious with China’s culture and identity.

It has long banned foreign internet services such as Facebook and Google, using its Great Firewall to shield its one billion internet users from overseas influence.

Beijing has also fortified data regulation to exert more state power over an area deemed increasingly important to state security. SCMP

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