Security and technology: the Five-Year Plan for Internet Development

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Last month, the Ministry of Industry and Information technology presented their plan for the development of the Chinese Internet during the 12th Five-Year Plan. This is the first dedicated government-level plan for the Internet, and the blueprint for the direction that Chinese Internet policy and management will take for the next five years. A full translation is available.

In terms of content, this document follows the line established earlier related to economic restructuring. There are explicit support policies for Internet-related SMEs, a strong emphasis on technological research, and it stresses the need to attract highly trained Internet talents from abroad. Specifically, advances are planned in areas such as intelligent terminals, cloud computing and the Internet of Things. Furthermore, the plan promises to expand Internet capacity. Sluggish Internet speed has been a topic of discussion recently, and the plan sets forth targets on speed and access which are also part of China’s human rights development plans. Conversely, the plan stresses the necessity to strengthen China’s influence on international Internet structures. It diagnoses the Internet as being the next space for confrontation between nations, after land, sea, air and space.

The most important aspect of this document, however, seems to be security. Obviously, data leaks, phishing, privacy protection and viruses are real threats against the further development of Internet industries. At the same time, the Chinese government itself is often accused as being behind cyberattacks and online intelligence, something of which the US military, amongst others, seems very suspicious. Increased transparency and clarity about China’s objectives would be very useful in this regard. Also, security seems to refer to censorship. The plan calls for enhancing “emergency response systems” to deal with “sudden incidents” and strengthening institutional and legal frameworks to further strengthen Internet supervision and management. This continues the trend of recent years, where new national and provincial-level Internet offices were established. Furthermore, the trend of co-opting Internet enterprises into self-discipline seems to be strengthened.

Obviously, plans like these are general guidelines, and the interesting question remains how these objectives will be transposed into concrete policy and regulatory measures, especially in an environment changing as quickly as the Internet. Watch this space.


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