Wed | Nov 22, 2017

China wants tech development but downplays net firewall

Published:Wednesday | October 25, 2017 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson
Zhang Run, deputy director general for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China, speaks at a press conference on Friday, October 20.

Beijing, China:

China has called for more investment in new technologies with Latin America and the Caribbean, LAC, while insisting the great firewall of China will not affect trade.

Latin America and the Caribbean represents the second-largest region for Chinese investment, only second to Asia, according to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Zhang Run, deputy director general for Latin America in China's foreign ministry, said that going forward, investors in the region should take advantage of Chinese innovation in the areas of energy; online payment systems, such as Alipay and Wechat; bike-sharing companies, including Mobike and Opo; and high-speed railway technologies.

Investors are said to lack information on innovations in China due to censorship and firewalling of popular western internet sites. But Zhang told journalists attending a press conference that businesses continue to trade. Additionally, he said that foreign direct investment more than doubled year-on-year between China and the LAC region.

"I believe the management of the net is not in conflict with rights of freedom of speech, and not in conflict with our exchange with foreign countries. I think this is a non-issue," said Zhang at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing on Friday in response to a query.

He reasoned that many businesses in China had established offices overseas and that the internet firewall doesn't impact their growth.

The internet remains the closest means to bridge the two regions separated by a 12-hour time zone difference. Many of the top global sites which are based in the United States, as well as search terms, are blocked either totally or intermittently - which some refer to as the 'great firewall'.

Zhang said China exercises control and regulation of the internet in accordance with its own national laws. The constitution, he said, enshrines the citizens of China to enjoy rights, for example, freedom of speech and freedom of association. He added that citizens also need to fulfil their obligations and cannot violate the rights of others.

"Freedoms are not absolute," said Zhang.

 

CENSORED KEYWORDS

 

Consequently, the silk nation and Silicon Valley do not necessarily communicate on similar terms. As such, sites such as Google and its related sites like Gmail won't work or hardly work in China. The same is true of Facebook and its related sites such as Instagram and Whatsapp. There are other sites which will not load, but failing that, the government or service providers will censor keyword search results.

"The internet is a reflection of the society. Any activity on the net needs to respect the law and respect public order, and any activity that violates public order and the law will be strictly prohibited. Also, service providers of the internet should also abide by the law and fulfil their obligations," said Zhang. "If they see any violation of law, they need to delete the contents immediately. China is doing this, and more countries are doing the same. Some have even more strict standards."

Popular sites from the west that remain open, however, include payment portals such as PayPal, Amazon and Payoneer. This suggests that China wants to facilitate commerce even as it censors entire sites to exclude what it deems as propaganda.

From January to August, trade between China and Latin America & the Caribbean totalled US$166.7 billion, up 18.3 per cent year-on-year. It reversed a decline over the previous two years.

China's foreign direct investment in Latin America totalled US$27.3 billion in 2016, up more than 100 per cent year-on-year due to megaprojects in countries like Brazil with a US$3.8-billion acquisition and expansion of a hydro plant there, and the US$10 billion acquisition of a copper mine in Peru.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com