Lu Wei: the internet must have brakes

Speaking to a panel on “the future of the internet economy” at the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Summer Davos in Tianjin yesterday, Lu Wei (鲁炜), the director of China’s State Internet Information Office (SIIO), said there must be “mutual integration” of international rules for internet governance and the national laws of various countries.

“Freedom and order are twin sisters, and they must live together,” said Lu Wei, according to a report from the official Xinhua News Agency. “The same principle applies to security. So we must have a public order [internationally]. And this public order cannot impact any particular local order.”

Lu Wei, a former municipal propaganda minister for Beijing, has a reputation in China as a hard-liner bent on strengthening control over the internet, and particularly social media. Many Chinese journalists attribute China’s 2013 crackdown on “Big V” users on Sina Weibo to Lu.

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Suggesting that controls should be built into internet technology as it develops globally, Lu likened the internet to a car, for which brakes are an absolutely necessary feature.

“The internet is like a car,” said Lu Wei. “If it has no brakes, it doesn’t matter how fast the car is capable of traveling, once it gets on the highway you can imagine what the end result will be. And so, no matter how advanced, all cars must have brakes.”

A full translation of the Xinhua report of Lu Wei’s remarks follows:

The Speed of China’s Internet Development Has No Equal

During the dialogue, Lu Wei remarked that over the past 20 years, China’s internet has developed at a fierce pace. China now has close to four million websites, 600 million internet users and 1.3 billion mobile phone users, of which 500 million use mobile internet services. The number of internet users in China is greater that the total populations of many countries, and accounts for one-fifth of all internet users in the world. Internet enterprises in China have also developed rapidly, and of the 10 most competitive internet enterprises in the world, China is home to four. E-commerce in China has grown at double-digit pace, at nearly 30 percent, in fact — a level of growth that has no equal in the world. Looking at e-commerce in China, annual business transactions total more than 10,000 billion (10万亿), and this is expected to grow 20 percent in 2014. We have already seen a 20 percent increase in e-commerce growth during the first half of the year.

What is it that has driven the ferocious development of China’s internet? Lu Wei believes that, first of all, it has been China’s open policy approach. Without the policy of reform and opening, China’s internet would not have grown so rapidly. Secondly, Chinese internet enterprises have a strong sense of innovation. Without this level of innovation, these enterprises could not have performed so well. Thirdly, Chinese internet enterprises have worked with internet companies around the world and accommodated the global trends in internet development. Fourthly, China’s internet is managed in an orderly manner. It’s precisely because of this orderly management that China’s internet has developed in a scientific manner. Finally, China has gathered together a group of elite internet experts.

Internet Governance Must Be “Multilateral, Democratic and Transparent’

In addressing the issue of internet governance, Lu Wei used three words. The first was “multilateral” (多边), meaning the accommodation of various interests to a single goal. The second was “democratic” (民主), meaning that we discuss decisions together, and no single person, or no single country, or no single interest group can have the final say all on its own. The third was “transparency” (透明), meaning that internet governance must operate by transparent rules, and the whole world must be clear about these rules.

Across these three principles, said Lu Wei, we have a consensus [globally], and we can certainly reach the best methods that allow the internet to become Alibaba’s treasure box rather than Pandora’s box.

Combining International Public Order and Respect for National Laws

Lu Wei said that the establishment of rules was necessary, that if there were no rules governing e-commerce then problems such as piracy would result . . . Freedom and order are twin sisters, said Lu Wei, and they must live together. The same principle applied to security. So we must have a public order. And this public order cannot impact any particular local order. Therefore, there was a need for the mutual integration of the international public order [of the internet] and the laws of every nation. Only then will the internet be ordered as it should be.

The Basic Line of Thinking in China’s Approach to Internet Management is Respect for the Law

Lu Wei emphasized that the basic line of thinking in China for the management of the internet was respect for China’s laws. More concretely: 1) protection of China’s national interests; 2) protection of the interests of Chinese consumers. These are China’s legal bottom lines. What we cannot permit, [said Lu], is the taking advantage of China’s market, of profiting from Chinese money, but doing damage to China. This will absolutely not be permitted. It is unacceptable to harm China’s interests, to harm China’s security, or to harm the interests of China’s consumers. Assuming respect for this bottom line any internet company is welcome in China.

We Must Have a Clear Consciousness in the FAce of Rapid Technological Development

Discussing what sort of internet should be built, Lu Wei said that, first of all, the internet space should be peaceful (和平的), promoting the peaceful interaction among people, and it cannot provoke war in the world. Second, it must be secure. It cannot make people like goldfish in a fishbowl, their personal information revealed for all to see, or suffering slander at the hands of others. Third, it should be open, being interoperable at all access points in the world — because without openness the internet effectively does not exist. Fourth, [the internet should be] cooperative.

Lu Wei emphasized that we must remain clearly conscious about the rapid development of internet technologies. On the one hand, we cannot restrict the development of technologies simply because it is too fast; on the other hand, we cannot lose sight of security as technologies develop. The internet is like a car, [said Lu Wei]. If it has no brakes, it doesn’t matter how fast the car is capable of traveling, once it gets on the highway you can imagine what the end result will be. And so, no matter how advanced, all cars must have brakes.

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