This year marks the 50th anniversary of the invention of the Internet and has seen the escalation of Sino-U.S. trade and technological tensions.
Under these circumstances, the Sixth World Internet Conference, which was held from Oct. 19 to 22 in Wuzhen, a small canal town in Zhejiang Province near Shanghai, has attracted special attention from all over the world.
The Wuzhen summit has been held annually since 2014 as an important platform for China to promote the idea of global Internet governance. According to media reports, some regional presidents of U.S. tech companies such as Honeywell, Qualcomm, Intel and Cisco joined this year’s conference. But many U.S. Internet giants such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple didn’t show up.
The fact that some big-name foreign companies didn’t attend is a strong indication that the China-U.S. tensions have cast a shadow on the technological event. In my view, no matter what mounting difficulties lie ahead, it is beneficial for those foreign technological giants to have more investments, or at least maintain a business presence, in China.
First of all, no matter whether you take part or not, the Internet industry will develop on its own way and never change according to man’s will. As one of the most important inventions in the 20th century, the Internet has greatly changed people’s way of life and productivity. Due to the Internet, a new scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation is accelerating all over the world. The Internet has also ushered in new momentum, broadened space for further development and unfolded new forms of application such as artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things.
Secondly, with 854 million Internet users as of the end of June 2019, China is a gigantic market that cannot be ignored by any tech giant who wants to expand its business worldwide. Moreover, as the country boasting the most Internet users, China is not only a strong supporter of international cooperation, but also stands out as a global forerunner in Internet technological innovations.
Thirdly, China’s digital economy in 2018 reached 31.3 trillion yuan (US$4.4 trillion), accounting for 34.8 percent of its GDP. China is now trying its best to turn cyberspace into an innovative and dynamic sphere to serve and even highly integrate with the real economy, thus bringing about more new forms of business and more job vacancies. For example, the Sixth Light of Internet Expo, a warm-up event to the Sixth World Internet Conference, was also held in Wuzhen last week. More than 600 companies and organizations from 38 countries and regions showcased their cutting-edge technologies and products at the expo. Some famous companies from Shenzhen such as Tencent also displayed its innovative disease-screening AI system, garbage-sorting robot and other advanced Internet-based products that have the potential to foster new economic growth for the future.
Last but not least, considering their different historical backgrounds and developmental stages, it is natural for China and Western countries to have different views on the Internet and the course of its development. China promotes global governance in cyberspace and stresses the importance of cyber sovereignty, the idea that countries should have the right to control and censor their own Internet infrastructures. Some Western countries surely have different views on this issue. Nevertheless, cyberspace is not a place to intensify ideological confrontation, but a place to seek common ground while reserving differences. More importantly, China has vowed to further promote open cooperation by enriching its connotation of cyberspace and raising the level of openness in the sector. The country will also treat all domestic and foreign enterprises on an equal basis, welcome and encourage all types of companies to compete in a fair manner, and fully protect their rights and interests.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)