The move is intended to expand use of the internet within China, to boost cyber-security and boost China’s role globally. “Efforts should be made to build our country into a cyber power,” Xi said after the committee’s first meeting.
The establishment of the committee can also be seen as a strong signal that the state and the Communist Party have little intention of loosening online discourse or allowing dissent.
The country’s Premier Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, are also members of the new Central Internet Security And Information Leading Group, China Central Television announced on Thursday.
Although China is frequently accused of cyber-espionage and representing a security threat to western companies, China sees itself as a victim of cyber-crime. A report by the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center of China recently said that 3,000 government websites have been hacked and that the number of virus infected computers is growing rapidly.
China operates a highly advanced system of online censors — often nicknamed ‘The Great Firewall of China’ — which can remove or block access to individual postings on the web within China and on social media.
Twitter, Facebook and some Google services are banned in China. So too are certain foreign-language news websites including The New York Times, Bloomberg News and The Guardian. The use of virtual private networks, while common, is also actively discouraged.
The entertainment industry has benefited from differences in the degree of application of on- and offline scrutiny within China.
Despite a China-centric political storyline that would not be allowed on mainstream Chinese television, the second season of U.S. TV show “House of Cards” is currently showing on streaming site Sohu.com. But regulators frequently play catch-up and block such loopholes, which in turn changes patterns of usage.
Growing censorship of Twitter-like blog service Sina Weibo, and online posts which attract more than certain numbers of readers, has recently seen Sina Weibo usage slow sharply. Users have increasingly migrated to WeChat, which operates more like WhatsApp and can be used for creating groups.
China has the world’s largest population of online users, at an estimated 618 million users, at the end of 2013.