RAY­MOND ZHONG

Business Standard - - WORLD - Wuzhen, China, 10 November

Every year at the World In­ter­net Con­fer­ence, held since 2014 in the pho­to­genic canal town of Wuzhen near Shang­hai, com­pa­nies and govern­ment of­fi­cials have con­vened to send a mes­sage: China is a high-tech force to be reck­oned with.

With that mes­sage now set­tled beyond much doubt, this year’s con­fer­ence show­cased some­thing dif­fer­ent. China’s tech in­dus­try is be­com­ing more se­ri­ous about grap­pling with its prod­ucts’ un­in­tended con­se­quences — and about help­ing the govern­ment.

Dis­cus­sions of tech­nol­ogy’s prom­ise were leav­ened with con­tem­pla­tion of its darker side ef­fects, such as fraud and data breaches. A fo­rum on pro­tect­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion fea­tured rep­re­sen­ta­tives from China’s high­est pros­e­cu­tor and its pow­er­ful in­ter­net reg­u­la­tor. And sev­eral tech com­pa­nies pledged their sup­port for Bei­jing’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts, even as China faces in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism for de­tain­ing and in­doc­tri­nat­ing Mus­lims in the name of fight­ing ter­ror­ism in the western re­gion of Xinjiang.

“Ten­cent has been ded­i­cated to deal­ing with ter­ror­ist in­for­ma­tion on­line and other in­ter­net crimes, in line with the govern­ment’s crack­down,” Chen Yong, an ex­ec­u­tive in Ten­cent’s se­cu­rity man­age­ment depart­ment, said at the event.

The con­fer­ence, which ends Fri­day, also re­flected some new chal­lenges fac­ing China. It was held at the same time as an­other big event: a six-day im­port expo in Shang­hai aimed at show­ing China as a big buyer of for­eign goods. With Amer­i­can tar­iffs threat­en­ing to slow a weak­en­ing Chi­nese econ­omy, the coun­try’s leader, Xi Jin­ping, spoke at the expo on Mon­day to pro­claim that China could be a pos­i­tive force in global trade.

At Wuzhen, by con­trast, Xi ap­peared only by proxy. The head of the Com­mu­nist Party’s pro­pa­ganda depart­ment, Huang Kun­ming, con­veyed a mes­sage of thanks from Xi and then de­liv­ered an open­ing ad­dress that ex­tolled the world­chang­ing power of in­ter­net ac­cess.

Emis­saries from Sil­i­con Val­ley were also in short sup­ply. Last year, the speak­ers at Wuzhen in­cluded Tim Cook, Ap­ple’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, as well as Sun­dar Pichai of Google. This year, the sole Western tech ex­ec­u­tive to give a key­note ad­dress was Steve Mol­lenkopf, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the chip maker Qual­comm.

His ap­pear­ance served as a re­minder of Amer­i­can com­pa­nies’ con­tin­u­ing tra­vails in China, which could deepen as the two pow­ers wres­tle over high-tech supremacy. Qual­comm scrapped a $44 bil­lion deal to buy a Dutch chip man­u­fac­turer this year af­ter China’s an­titrust au­thor­i­ties de­clined to ap­prove it, a move widely viewed as re­tal­i­a­tion in the trade war.

Among Chi­nese com­pa­nies this week, pri­vate en­ter­prises showed off the ways in which they in­creas­ingly sup­port and work with the govern­ment, while state-backed com­pa­nies demon­strated they were not doomed to be tech lag­gards.

The Ten­cent ex­ec­u­tive, Chen, de­scribed in an in­ter­view the com­pany’s re­la­tion­ship with law en­force­ment.

Po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists have re­ported be­ing fol­lowed based on what they have said on WeChat. Chat records have turned up as ev­i­dence in court, fu­el­ing spec­u­la­tion about whether Ten­cent, the app’s de­vel­oper, may be the source.

Chen said Ten­cent re­ports il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity dis­cov­ered on its plat­forms to the govern­ment, af­ter which the au­thor­i­ties can re­quest spe­cific user in­for­ma­tion. Me­ta­data de­scrib­ing when and where users logged into a Ten­cent app can be stored for up to six months, he said. But Chen de­nied that the com­pany gave law en­force­ment of­fi­cials a back door through which they could freely pe­ruse chat records and user data.

COUR­TESY: WORLD IN­TER­NET CON­FER­ENCE

An in­ter­ac­tive 5G ro­bot at the China Tele­com stand at the Light of the In­ter­net Ex­po­si­tion

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