In August 2014 I was commissioned by the Europe-China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN) to write a report on the Internet in China and its Challenges for Europe. ECRAN was funded (it ended this fall) by the European Union and aimed at strengthening European policy-makers’ understanding of developments in China and their impact on the EU and on EU-China relations. It carried out targeted studies and commissioned the writing of reports, policy briefings and other publications, as well as organised conferences and workshops.
My report is available here Internet in China, Marina Svensson for ECRAN, and the exectutive summary is provided below.
Internet in China and its Challenges for Europe: Dealing with Censorship, Competition and Collaboration
- The growth of the Internet in China has been spectacular. 632 million Chinese citizens are today connected to the Internet, making China home to the largest Internet population in the world in absolute numbers. The Internet penetration rate has grown to 46.9 per cent, which however means that a majority of Chinese citizens still are excluded from the Internet.
- In recent years social media such as microblogging (weibo) and instant message services and apps like WeChat has become hugely popular among Chinese citizens.
- The Chinese government’s Internet strategy aims to maintain control and enforce censorship while also promoting information and communication technologies (ICT) industries and taking advantage of these technologies to improve political governance.
- Many international social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube continue to be blocked in China, while other foreign companies face restrictions and censorship in China.
- Those who voice critical opinions continue to risk repression and arrest. By end of 2013 at least 32 Chinese citizens were in jail for exercising their freedom of speech.
- Since coming to power the Xi Jinping leadership has stepped up both its control and use of the Internet, claiming that the Internet is a crucial “ideological battlefield,” and for instance cracked-down on social media through campaigns and new regulations.
- It is not likely that China’s Internet strategy will change or that improvements with respect to freedom on-line will occur in the near future. China is also becoming a more active player in international organizations that might threaten the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance advocated by the EU.
- The EU needs to strengthen its competence with respect to ICT developments in China, and develop a clearer strategy on issues related to on-line freedom, privacy, and surveillance in dialogues and projects on ICT with China.