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China's World Internet Conference goes 'international' as Beijing seeks to promote its own vision of global cyberspace

China's World Internet Conference (WIC), an annual event that promoted the country's model of internet governance, said it has transformed into an "international organisation" as part of Beijing efforts to push its vision of global cyberspace.

Although WIC did not not publish a list of the founding members of the new body, the official Xinhua news agency reported that they include "institutions, organisations, businesses and individuals" from nearly 20 countries. Zhuang Rongwen, the director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, will be the director-general of the body.

A ceremony was held in Beijing on Tuesday to announce the formation of the organisation, which had hosted the annual event, also known as the Wuzhen Summit, in the picturesque canal town near Shanghai since 2014.

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The new group is expected to host more regional and thematic summits and seminars to promote the development of a global internet, according to a statement on its website.

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a congratulatory letter, saying its creation was "an important measure to ... deepen international cyberspace cooperation", Xinhua reported. "The future of cyberspace should be jointly built by all countries of the world," Xi said.

Huang Kunming, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, addresses the ceremony for the revamped World Internet Conference on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua alt=Huang Kunming, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, addresses the ceremony for the revamped World Internet Conference on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua>

China is known for its rigid control of the internet, with its Great Firewall blocking many foreign services, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, from the country's domestic users. At the same time, Chinese regulators have clipped the wings of its own Big Tech firms to manage the internet as a tool for state goals.

Participation by foreign tech CEOs in Wuzhen has also declined, especially since the outbreak of Covid-19. Last year, a handful of foreign CEOs delivered addresses via video, including Tesla's Elon Musk, Intel's Pat Gelsinger and Qualcomm's Cristiano Amon.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, addresses the opening ceremony of the 2021 World Internet Conference via video, Sept. 26, 2021. Photo: Xinhua alt=Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, addresses the opening ceremony of the 2021 World Internet Conference via video, Sept. 26, 2021. Photo: Xinhua>

However, the last in-person appearance by big name foreign CEOs was five years ago when Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai showed up.

"WIC has been about promoting China's vision of global internet governance from the get-go, but it is presented with an emphasis on collaboration and exchange," said Thomas Nunlist, senior analyst at Trivium China. The new organisation is likely to try and bring countries more into China's orbit, and make declarations that further push Beijing's model for the internet, Nunlist said.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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