Going beyond multi-stakeholderism and multilateralism: China’s perspectives to internet governance and future developments

15 Jun 2017 13:15h - 14:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

This session, moderated by Mr Bu Zhong (Senior Research Fellow, CyberLabs), featured discussions on China’s perspectives on Internet governance and its future. The session was co-organised by Shantou University and CyberLabs, a Chinese think-tank. Zhong started by emphasising that the views of CyberLabs do not represent the views of the Chinese government, but are more aligned with the positions of the Chinese Internet industry, civil society, and research actors.

Mr Xingdong Fang (President, CyberLabs) first addressed the general misunderstanding that exists with regard to Internet governance in China. For Fang, Chinese Internet governance associates a large number of actors both at the national state level, with more than 20 state agencies and ministries involved, and the local level, since local governments are also included in the decision-making process. The Chinese approach to Internet governance is therefore less static and more ‘multi’ than commonly assumed. Then Fang identified the three main challenges for Internet governance in China. He referred first to the growing importance of ‘super-platforms’ (like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) which could become almost as powerful as the Chinese government. Second, Fang mentioned the difficulty for the Chinese government and national authorities to keep up with the pace of the development of new technologies. Third, Fang considered that China’s approach to Internet governance is not transparent enough and should be more global. Fang considered the recent declaration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, stating that the Internet is evolving into a community of ‘shared destiny’, as an indicator of China’s increasing its future engagement in global Internet governance debates.

Ms Xianhong Hu (Programme manager, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)) then dealt with UNESCO’s actions with regard to Internet governance and its current multistakeholder approach. UNESCO’s member states recently endorsed a common vision of the Internet governance framework, consisting of the R.O.A.M. Principles (standing for human-Rights based, Open, Accessible Internet governed by Multistakeholder participation). For Hu, the gap between the ‘North’ and ‘South’ in the context of Internet governance discussions needs to be addressed by strengthening the participation of developing countries. Even at national level, states should ensure that marginalised groups and younger generations are included in discussions which will surely affect them. These two cases demonstrate the need for a multistakeholder approach to Internet governance. UNESCO recently conducted research on multistakeholder participation in Internet governance identifying good practices at national level (in Brazil, Kenya, and Korea for instance) which may be useful for other member states.


by Clement Perarnaud