China's Internet czar says no plans to stop blocking foreign websites
Lu Wei says China regulates but doesn't censor the Internet
Activists say China has stepped up its war on the open web in recent months
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been courting China assiduously – learning Mandarin, welcoming officials to Facebook’s offices and asking President Xi Jinping to choose a name for his then unborn child.
But, so far, there’s little sign his charm offensive is paying off.
Lu Wei, China’s Internet czar, says the country has no plans to stop blocking foreign websites, which includes popular social media sites such Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as some news websites.
“I can’t change you, but I have the right to choose my friends,” Lu said at a rare news conference Wednesday.
“I indeed have to choose. We don’t welcome those who come to China to make money while smearing China.”
“It’s like a family who doesn’t welcome unfriendly people into their house as guests,” he continued.
Lu denied that the Chinese Internet was becoming a cut-off “Intranet” – a common charge of critics who say that the country has dramatically ramped up its war on the open web through a vast censorship apparatus known as the “Great Firewall of China.”
Activists say, that in the past year, regulators have shut down tools that allow people to access blocked content and threatened their developers, both in and out of the country.
Lu said China didn’t censor online content, but like most countries, regulated it.
“If we really censor the Internet, how come our Internet user population and their reliance on the Internet keep growing?
“Let me tell you, China has four million websites, nearly 700 million Internet users, 1.2 billion mobile phone users as well as 600 million WeChat and Weibo users. Every day they post 30 billion messages. It’s simply impossible for any country or organization to censor 30 billion messages.”
But he added: “Not censoring doesn’t mean there is no bottom line: If you touch that line and violate the law, you will be held responsible.”
China’s homegrown tech industry has thrived – in part through creating heavily regulated Chinese versions of popular blocked services that many users find are as good if not better than their inspiration.
Instead of Google, Chinese users have Baidu; instead of Twitter, they have Weibo; and instead of Facebook, there’s WeChat.
However, Lu, who was among the officials that visited Facebook’s campus last year, didn’t shut the door completely on Zuckerberg and other blocked tech companies hoping to do more business in China.
“We are open to all Internet companies around the world. As long as you don’t harm China’s national interests or Chinese consumers’ interest, we welcome you and your growth in China.”
CNN’s James Griffiths contributed to this report