Reports on a rare public critique of the Communist Party’s internet policy by a senior official have been removed.
Luo Fuhe, vice-chair of the country’s top political advisory body – the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – introduced a proposal to improve the loading speeds of overseas websites on March 1, before the start of the country’s top political meetings.
A report on Luo’s proposal on the CPPCC’s news distribution site and an opinion piece criticising western coverage of his proposal from state tabloid The Global Times are no longer available. His comments were reported by overseas media including the Guardian and the BBC.
A leaked directive posted by US-based China Digital Times issued on Saturday ordered all websites to delete reports on Luo’s “Proposal to Improve and Increase Speed of Access to Foreign Websites.” China Digital Times omitted the name of the issuing body to protect its source, and notes that the wording it published may not be exact, as directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors.
Luo said the slow speeds of overseas websites creates a huge impact on the country’s economic and social development and scientific progress.
30 minute loading times
“Visiting the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation website or many overseas universities’ websites from within the country is very slow,” he said, according to a cached version of a report on the CPPCC’s news distribution site.
“It takes at least 10-20 seconds to open each page, and some overseas universities’ sites need at least half an hour to load.”
He added that some researchers must rely on software to conduct searches outside of the firewall in order to complete their research tasks, which is not normal.
The press conference last week was held to introduce the key proposals of Luo’s party, the Chinese Association for Promoting Democracy (CAPD) – one of the country’s eight official parties that follow the leadership of the ruling Communist Party. It preceded the meetings of the National People’s Congress, China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, and the CPPCC, the top advisory body to the Congress.
The two meetings opened last weekend in Beijing. The sessions are a chance for CPPCC delegates to put forward proposals, which may be put to congress if they get enough support from NPC deputies and CPPCC members, though the CPPCC members do not have voting rights.
The Communist Party oversees a vast network of technological and legislative controls – commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall” – which routinely block foreign websites including Google, Facebook and Twitter. Content seen as politically sensitive, violent or morally dubious is censored. Controls have further tightened under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.
The CAPD’s proposal suggested allowing access to non-political websites, especially those used by researchers such as the websites of overseas universities and research institutes, while determining which websites are off-limits by compiling a blacklist that is closely monitored, as well as filtering sensitive information on search engines and technical sites to allow some usage of these sites.
It also recommended improving hardware to increase speeds such as constructing undersea cables and encouraging service providers to improve network speeds.
In January, the government announced a campaign to “clean up” internet service providers and crack down on virtual private networks (VPNs) used to get over the great firewall, making it illegal to provide VPN services without government approval.