Boao Forum for Asia: China eager to join the global debate on Internet Governance

Boao, 30 March 2015  At the annual conference of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), which closed last Sunday on China’s Southern island province of Hainan, Internet was a major area of interest. One third of the panels focused on Internet governance, Internet banking, smart health, smart energy, e-commerce, big data, Internet of things and related areas.

This reflects the strategic role that the Chinese government is giving to the digital economy as a driver of growth, innovation and green development across all industrial sectors. Earlier in March, China’s top legislature advanced two new strategies, “Made in China 2025” and “Internet Plus”, both aimed at promoting the International competitiveness of China’s manufacturing industry, through the integration of mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data and Internet of things with modern manufacturing.

Internet Governance Panel

From left to right: Cao Shumin (CAICT), Luigi Gambardella (ChinaEU), Wu Haitao (Cyber Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Zhao Houlin (ITU), Rod Beckstrom (former ICANN), Zhang Chenggang (China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center of the Cyberspace Administration of China), Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa (Malaysian Institute for Strategic and International Studies)

The China Academy of ICT (CAICT), the think tank of the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), hosted a panel on Internet governance. It appeared from the discussions that one of the priorities of the Chinese leadership is to engage more actively in the shaping of the current Internet governance rules, currently determined in the USA. 

The Chinese position resulted essentially in line with the panel’s general consensus. Internet is global by nature and should thus be governed on the basis of a multi-stakeholder model. Civil society and Internet users, the private sector, governments, national and International organizations, research, academic and technical institutions should all work together to reduce the Internet divide, while at the same time ensuring cyber security and privacy protection, and formulating a response to the ongoing debate on net neutrality.

The newly appointed ITU Secretary General Zhao Houlin warmly welcomed Luigi Gambardella’s participation to the Internet governance panel: “I appreciate ChinaEU’s firm support to the cause of reinforcing EU-China cooperation on Internet-related matters.”

During BFA, ChinaEU met with a number of prestigious representatives of the Chinese academic, business and investor community. Worth of note is the conversation with Chi Fulin, President of the China Institute for Reform and Development (CIRD). A passionate and influential supporter and promoter of China’s reform agenda, Chi Fulin firmly believes that the new wave of reforms initiated by President Xi and Premier Li are much more than a mere slogan. On the contrary, they demonstrate China’s sincere commitment to further open its economy and actively pursue new internationalization opportunities for its companies. “I am confident that our Institute can do much together with ChinaEU to bring Europe and China closer at political and economic level, by promoting mutual trust and confidence in each other’s political and economic systems. The forthcoming EU-China Summit will be a precious occasion to showcase what can be achieved through closer dialogue among institutions, think tanks and businesses, starting from an ever crucial and strategic sector like ICT.” Chi’s Institute has just recently established a presence in Brussels to facilitate debates around the main topic of China’s reform agenda among European stakeholders.

ChinaEU has also had a fruitful exchange of ideas with major Chinese investment banks. Discussions focused on China’s possible contribution to the new EU Investment package of EUR 315bn. Some of this amount could be dedicated to the implementation of ambitious services and infrastructure projects concerning the European digital economy.

Background

Each year, BFA reunites some of the world’s most renowned personalities from the political, business and academia circles in what is sometimes referred to as the “Asian Davos”. Under the theme of “Asia’s New Future: Towards a Community of Common Destiny”, BFA 2015 held more than 70 formal discussions on topics ranging from macroeconomics, trade & investment, regional development, technological innovation to politics and security.

For the third year, China’s President Xi Jinping introduced the opening plenary, delivering two important messages to the audience. First, despite a slower –“a new normal”– GDP growth, China’s economy remains resilient and committed to further “opening up, improving its investment climate and protecting foreign investors’ lawful rights and interests”. Second, China is proactively working for “a new win-win strategy of opening up”, which encourages cooperation with the international community for the goal of common development. Indeed, through the establishment of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative and the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China aims at playing a more active role in coordinating International resources to narrow the infrastructure development gap within and beyond the Asian region.

Overall, the BFA confirmed its role of catalyzer of constructive ideas among global policy makers and economic actors, and the digital economy has emerged as a main driver of growth and connectivity across the world.