China’s 4th World Internet Conference came to a close in the scenic watertown of Wuzhen on Tuesday with praise from state news outlets, but little discussion on Chinese social media.
China Digitial Times has published a leaked directive revealing why that may be. The directive orders censors to “intercept, find, and delete content attacking the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen on interactive platforms such as Weibo, blogs, public WeChat accounts, forums, and bulletin boards.”
While this order is hardly surprising, it does at least make the annual event even a bit more ironic, particularly considering that the theme of this year’s conference was “Developing digital economy for openness and shared benefits — building a community of common future in cyberspace.”
Central message of Chinese government Wuzhen internet conference is openness. I don't think the organizers get that saying openness is the vision, despite censorship and market barriers, doesn't just ring hollow but also hurts their credibility on the working level.
— Graham Webster (@gwbstr) December 5, 2017
However, our favorite thing about the directive was the list of keywords that censors were told to keep an eye out for: “World 404 Conference, World LAN Conference, World Satire Conference, Low-level Political Party Conference, New-era United Front Meeting, Low-level Organization Conference, Beggars’ Conference, World Spenders’ Conference.”
In its post, CDT helpfully explains all of those references:
Among the highlighted key-terms, “World 404 Conference” (referring to the standard “content not found” HTTP error), “World LAN Conference,” and “World Satire Conference” all express the irony of hosting a “World Internet” meeting while increasingly restricting access to the global internet. “New-era United Front Meeting” refers both to Xi Jinping’s recently enshrined theoretical contribution to Party doctrine and to the Party’s “magic weapon” for furthering its influence at home and abroad. “Beggars’ Conference” mocks high profile figures such as Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai who have attended in apparent hope of winning Beijing’s favor; “World Spenders’ Conference,” on the other hand, alludes to a crudely homophonous expression of scorn for Chinese leaders’ generosity in dispensing it to foreigners, rather than China’s own people.
“Low-level Political Party Conference” and “Low-level Organization Conference” both allude to the originally official term “low-level population,” which became the target of a backlash and an expression of solidarity during recent migrant evictions in Beijing. These terms appear to refer to a 4-day meeting of international political parties in Beijing, which concluded on Sunday, rather than to the Wuzhen conference.
Both Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai have been criticized by Western media for attending the annual gathering, helping to give credibility to an event which China uses to promote its own vision of a policed internet.
During a keynote address on Sunday, Cook made no reference to China’s tightening internet restrictions which have caused his company to delete VPNs and Skype from its China app store, instead focusing on his Apple’s successful cooperation with Chinese entities.
“The theme of this conference — developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits — is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said. “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”
Of course, at the moment, China’s internet community is unable to join a common present in cyberspace, blocked off from the rest of the world by mankind’s most sophisticated censorship network. Naturally, foreign attendees to the Wuzhen conference were given access to a special Wi-fi network to get around these restrictions.
Hypocrisy free zone at Wuzhen. The special wifi here gets us around the Great Firewall. So in China it's only at the World Internet Conference that the Internet actually connects to the world. pic.twitter.com/kMpIPepwNM
— Paul Mozur (@paulmozur) December 3, 2017
A similar deafening silence from social media greeted news last month of the downfall of Lu Wei, China’s former internet czar who presided over an unprecedented crackdown on social media. Lu also oversaw the World Internet Conference for the first two years before abruptly stepping down from his post and eventually finding himself under investigation for corruption.
At the event in 2015, he denied the existence of internet censorship in China, arguing: “It is a misuse of words if you say ‘content censorship.’ But no censorship does not mean there is no management. The Chinese government learned how to manage the internet from developed Western countries, we have not learned enough yet.”