China internet czar tells it like it is during US visit

December 10, 2014 17:27
China's internet czar Lu Wei meets with Apple chief executive Tim Cook (left) and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during his US visit. Photos:

China's top internet regulator has impressed US officials and technology executives with his candid talk and friendly demeanor during his whirlwind visit to the United States last week.

Lu Wei, director of the State Internet Information Office, behaved with great confidence and expressed his ideas frankly and candidly, which is a refreshing change from the cautious and conservative image of a typical Chinese cadre, columnist Liu Yi wrote in the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Lu has shown a surprisingly deep understanding of technology, its future trends and impact on life and society. As the New York Times puts it, “For the Americans, it may present a tricky balancing act, but for Mr. Lu, it is his moment.”

Lu impressed on the US public that the new Chinese leaders are adopting a quicker, more direct and effective way to tackle issues, and that they prefer “communication” and “flexibility”, Liu wrote.

His career started as a reporter, rising through the ranks of the state-owned Xinhua News Agency, before becoming the country's de facto internet czar. 

Lu is also a member of the central internet security and informatization leading group, a powerful committee headed by President Xi Jinping. One of the group's key missions is to make China, with 600 million netizens, an internet giant.

In his talks with US officials, he has not avoided the two nations' differences over internet issues.

“All things can be put on the table. I tell my US friends today, we should not fight like little kids, and we should set up rules to reach agreement,” he said in a speech at the George Washington University.

He told his US counterparts that China is willing to fit in and work actively with the whole world despite its own realities. And the first step is to build mutual trust, which he has tried to establish during his seven-day trip, Liu wrote.

Lu’s trip has come amid Beijing's determined campaign to rein in the nation’s freewheeling social media. The government has blocked internet access to certain websites like Facebook and Google, drawing accusations that it is infringing on the rights of internet users.

In its 2014 Net Report, US democracy watchdog Freedom House ranks China as one of the world’s three worst violators of internet freedom, along with Iran and Syria.

But at the same time, US technology companies are scrambling to gain a bigger slice of the vast Chinese market. And this made Lu's visit an important one for tech executives; he is the gatekeeper of this lucrative market.

During his trip, Lu stressed the importance of “forging mutual trust and realizing mutual benefits through cooperation”.

It seems Beijing has switched to a more “assertive” approach in tackling the internet issue, one of the most tricky ones, Liu wrote.

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US tech executives want to gain a bigger slice of the lucrative Chinese market. In this satirical illustration, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as a diehard Red Guard holding a book of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Photos: HKEJ, internet

Freelance journalist