Chinese state media enthusiastically announced the formation of an “internet federation” on May 9, which claims to be China’s first non-governmental organization made up of Chinese internet companies.
But is it really independent from the Chinese regime?
The president of the 300-member organization is Ren Xianliang, former deputy director of the regime’s internet censorship agency, the Cyberspace Administration.
Meanwhile, regime-friendly CEOs, Jack Ma of Alibaba—who has openly expressed support for the Chinese regime’s policies—and Pony Ma of Tencent—the parent company of WeChat, a social media platform known to comply with China’s internet censorship and monitoring policies—are the federation’s vice presidents.
What exactly does this federation do? According to state media reports, it seeks to implement the regime’s “internet superpower strategy,” and “persist in being the guide to the correct political path.”
These are undoubtedly euphemisms for internet censorship. The Chinese regime wants to become a global leader in internet technology, including by exporting the Chinese model of “cyberspace sovereignty,” the idea that governments should dictate what their citizens can access on the internet within the country’s borders.
Chinese dissidents and others who have expressed online opinions critical of the Chinese regime have been punished in the past—when they strayed from the “correct political path.”
State media also mentioned that the federation would embody “the spirit” of an April conference on “internet safety,” where Xi vouched for tightening the state’s grip on the internet in order to maintain, in Xi’s words, “economic and social stability.”
The group also promised to promote the activities of Party branches at their respective internet companies. Those are satellite Chinese Communist Party organizations set up in the workplace to ensure staff and company decisions toe the Party line.
The new “federation” is the latest method by which the Chinese regime has recently sought to further monitor information flows. A policy went into effect last June whereby all domestic and foreign firms in China are required to store their data on servers located within China.
On May 7, popular news aggregator app Jinri Toutiao announced that it has established an “expert panel” of bureaucrats, scholars, and journalists who will inspect content on the app and report anything deemed inappropriate by Chinese authorities.
Other major platforms like Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter), Tencent, and Youku (similar to YouTube) have also established such panels. The Chinese regime’s main censorship agency, State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television, announced this week that the three companies have deleted more than 150 “inappropriate” video and audio clips and closed 40,000 accounts.