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A Closer Look at China's Call for an End to the Internet Governance Forum

Sivasubramanian M

China as a nation with a population of 1.3 billion people, represents over a fifth of the whole world and for this reason, if not for any other, we need to sit up and listen to anything that China says, though a lot of what China says may be disagreeable.

China unambiguously stated its position during the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Open Consultations at Geneva on May 13. On this instance, I consider the views expressed by China largely respectable, but needs to be bridged in some areas.

CHINA: the delegation of China prefers the proposal put forward by Egypt, "Internet, an opportunity for all."

That is positive. The fact that China endorses the theme of "Internet as an Opportunity for all" is positive and it shows China's inclination to feel very positive about the Internet.

under the theme of "critical Internet resource management," we think that JPA is a very important theme ... we're going to [discuss] this in September ... we should do it in IGF, too.

This indicates that China does not feel that the JPA review in September would be conclusive. Yes, in all probability, the September review could be inconclusive, so China's opinion that Management of Critical Internet Resources should be prominently discussed is a valid point. Also, this implies that China feels that JPA review should stretch beyond the purview of U.S. Government and the topic of JPA review by itself needs to be internationalized.

Thirdly, now, as to security, ... we need to talk about regrouping the energies and resources of all parties concerned and to strengthen the international mechanism in order to promote security and stability for the Internet at the worldwide level.

In order to guarantee the security of states and to guarantee the interests of citizens to fight against terrorism and other crimes, all countries have the right to filter the contents of certain Internet sites. And I think that this is something that all countries are in the process of doing.

Governments always tend to emphasize Security in such a way that Privacy and Openness are traded off in the name of Security. China says that all countries are in the process of filtering certain Internet sites. This is true and disturbing. While China is vocal about this, rest of the world are doing just that, in varying measures such as by enacting legislations, prompting ISPs, changing policies or by publishing guidelines — so to say that several nations are rather SILENTLY implementing measures that compromise on all the fundamental values of the Internet. China is far more respectable than those nations that quietly pull up legislations, because China at least states its position unambiguously for the world to know.

IGF as a meeting hosted, under the auspices of the United Nations, talks about URL blocking. Now, will this give an impression to the outside world that the United Nations are against content blocking? Are the U.N. against the practice of certain states filtering some Internet sites so that when we talk about "blocking," should the theme of blocking be incorporated in our IGF meeting? We have to be very careful about that.

Interesting to note that China takes the views of IGF as that of the position adopted by the United Nations. It is also interesting to note that China talks in terms of a "RIGHT" to block content. (Goes on to prove that a discussion on Internet rights could be a double-edged sword) A lot of diplomacy is needed to get China to unwind from this position.

the essence of IGF's work is establishing dialogue, exchanging points of view. But this is not enough to solve the problems. The real problem is that in the field of the Internet, there is a monopoly that exists. And we need to solve that problem. It's not by talking about principles merely that we can solve this problem.

What China says here is very, very true. IGF is a distraction. It is a huge distraction. A thousand participants representing various stakeholders, not quite balanced by People's civil representatives, debate on issues, but what happens out there in legislative chambers of the world is completely unrelated to the discussions that take place at the IGF. Make a list of the policy changes and legislations enacted in various countries in the last 3 years and examine if the legislations enacted in bits and pieces reflect the mood of the IGF in any way. I am alarmed by the seemingly unrelated bits and pieces happening in various countries that completely disregard the reflections at the IGF, especially in matters related to Privacy, Human Rights, Openness, Transparency and more importantly the multi-stakeholder principle.

We can also see this kind of discussion taking place. But it's not enough for developing countries who don't have enough resources and don't have the capacities to participate in this kind of dialogue without further commitments being made, which is why the points of view of developing countries, especially when it comes to Internet governance, their points of view are not sufficiently reflected in our discussions, which is why we don't agree that the IGF should continue its mandate after the five years are up.

China's rationale is well explained in the above statement, but it has not come up with an acceptable alternative. My comment follows the next paragraph.

So we repeat that the delegation of China does not agree with extending the mission of the IGF beyond the five years ... we would need to look at the results that have been achieved. And we need, then, to launch into an intergovernmental discussion...The work of its next phase should be based on the results achieved in the previous years. We need to launch an intergovernmental discussion in order to solve the real problems that exist in this field of Internet governance.

Yes, we need to take a very serious look at the results achieved with a particular emphasis on how the Governments of the world have IGNORED the IGF deliberations and ignored the mood of the IGF. But why "intergovernmental" discussions in place of IGF? That would go towards ending the multi-stakeholder principle. That implies an attempt to 'capture' the Internet and make it the sole 'property' of Governments?

(Exactly the reason why the IGF should continue. The alternatives to IGF would be a complete reversal of the multi-stakeholder process. Irrespective of what little has been achieved, IGF should continue and STRENGTHENED to make it effective.)

China's position needs to be a bit fine-tuned.

The world needs to respond to China with plenty of respect for its views as it is a nation that is home to 1.35 billion. Some persuasive arguments are needed, a debate is needed with China in its positions on issues such as Security, content-blocking, privacy, and mutli-stakeholder principle.

We might have enhanced receptiveness from China if the "monopoly" is conceded in favor of a balanced governance. But balanced Governance in place of unilateral oversight needs to based on the multi-stakeholder principle. This is the essential fine-tuning that is needed on China's views.

By Sivasubramanian M, CEO, Turiya and President, Internet Society India Chennai. Views expressed here are those of the author's only. Sivasubramanian Muthusamy also contributes to the Wealthy World weblog located here.

Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance

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