Only three years into his tenure, the Head of China’s Cyberspace Administration is surprising everyone by stepping down to let his deputy take over the demanding job of managing the Chinese internet.
Xinhua announced yesterday that Lu Wei will no longer be Chief of the Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informationization. The former Vice Mayor of Beijing and one of the 100 most influential people in the world will be replaced by his deputy Xu Lin. According to SCMP, the newly appointed Internet Regulator is known as a “rising political star.”
Known for his “showmanship” and controversial remarks, Lu is a strong proponent of internet control. According to a New York Time’s article, the Chaohu-native, who kick-started his political career as a bureau chief of the state-owned Xinhua News Agency in the southern Guangxi region, had rapidly risen through its ranks to become secretary general and vice president. When he was promoted to be chief of Beijing’s propaganda department, Lu began to espouse his views on internet security by urging party authorities to enforce more control on the internet and social media. His thoughts, which stems from the need to preserve social stability, won him his current (albeit soon-be-replaced) position.
Yet, the proponent of “internet sovereignty” also promoted the use of social media, urging the 60,000 propaganda officials in Beijing to “watch Weibo, open a Weibo account, send Weibo messages, study Weibo.” His emphasis on the use of social media pioneered party utilization of internet propaganda as the population of netizens in China continued to explode.
However, Lu’s remarks and decisions throughout his 3 year tenure attracted quite a bit of criticism. In the Wuzhen Internet Conference last December, he rejected criticisms of China’s internet censorship laws. An ardent supporter of intensifying control over the internet, Lu defended his policies by arguing that his office practices management and not outright censorship:
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.
In addition, the former Internet Chief argued that China’s online market would not have grown so rapidly if internet censorship was indeed as harsh as what his critics claimed. Rather, he explained that the act of blocking some websites and removing some malicious posts is necessary to retain order in the face of possible social instability.
Indeed, we do not welcome those that make money off China, occupy China’s market, even as they slander China’s people. These kinds of websites I definitely will not allow in my house.
It is reported that China has more than 650 million netizens — the largest number in the world. Critics have continuously bemoaned that the Party rules its virtual online content with an iron fist. Yet, companies such as Tencent Holdings, Baidu Inc and Alibaba Group Holding have thrived and emerged as the world’s biggest internet firms.
Nevertheless, Lu Wei has received a fair share of foreign internet entrepreneurs, from receiving Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in Beijing to visiting Mark Zuckerburg’s Menlo Park offices. Though apparently Lu was not impressed by Zuckerburg’s love for the Xi Jinping classic “The Governance of China,” and Facebook remains blocked in China.
His replacement Xu Lin is reported to be a close protege of President Xi. According to Reuters, he seems to hold similar views to Lu Wei in terms of the party’s role over monitoring the internet. “There can be no turning deaf ears to or ignoring wrong points of view on the internet, fantastic stories and theories, distortions of facts to create rumors or malicious attacks,” he was quoted as saying.
Will Xu follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and outdo his reign? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, Lu will use his spare time to focus on his other job as the deputy head of the Central Propaganda Department, from which many believe he will rise to a position on China’s most powerful body, the Politburo Standing Committee.
By Arnie Yung
[Images viapeople.cn / StandNews / crntt.com / media.china.com.cn / Phoenix Satellite]