Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

China’s Internet Strategy: Present Approaches and Future Possibilities
TAKAI Kiyoshi  /  Professor, JF Oberlin University

March 30, 2018
The ferocious pace of the spread of the Internet in China and its growing uses there are today becoming readily apparent to Japanese observers. To date Japan has reacted to the technological and other advances in China mainly by belittling the country for its mimicry of successful examples from elsewhere and its production of items blatantly copied or stolen from competitors. But China has also become the source of original smartphone-based payment systems, cycle-sharing services, and taxi-dispatch businesses making skilled use of information technologies. Now that these are beginning to make inroads in the Japanese market, we must admit that they have attained a high level indeed.

China’s Internet capabilities go beyond the world of business, though. Beijing is putting them to full use in a range of areas, including cementing the government’s grip on power and maintaining social order. We must understand how the Chinese authorities are strategically advancing their use of the Internet.

Twice a year, the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) publishes the Statistical Report on Internet Development in China. The 41st report, issued in January 2018, stated that the Chinese Internet-using population had reached 772 million users as of December 2017. Of these, fully 753 million, or 97.5% of the total, accessed the Internet with a smartphone or other mobile device. In other words, China has already left the PC Internet era behind and entered the era of the mobile Internet. Just 20 years ago, in 1997, China was home to only 620,000 users and a scant 299,000 computers were connected to the Internet. The growth since then has been stratospheric.

Given growth on this scale, it is not surprising that the country has also seen a wealth of opportunities to develop various software and services, with an eye on putting them to business use. Indeed, it is the development of these convenient systems that has supported the growth of the Internet. In 2015 the Chinese government announced its Internet Plus strategy, aimed at offering national support for the promotion of business using the Internet.

The outcome has been dramatic change in how people live their lives. A Chinese friend whom I met recently in Beijing told me, “This month I only used cash twice—once to buy stamps at the post office and once to top up my subway fare payment card.” Even the bicycle-riding vendors of tanghulu, the skewers of candied hawberry popular in Beijing, accept payment via smartphone payment schemes using QR codes.

Internet usage has also increased dramatically in the field of journalism, my own area of specialization. The Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, uses an Internet system called the “Central Kitchen” to carry out unified editing of the information carried in all the media channels it controls and to broadcast that information in formats best suited to each channel. The main emphasis is no longer the pages of the physical newspaper; today it is readers using smartphones and other mobile devices, or sharing news stories on social media, that are the focus. The messages that the CPC wants to deliver are crafted and sent out as video or animated content, making them easier to understand and more likely to be accepted by the recipients.

Journalists also make use of the bidirectional communication that the Internet makes possible, collecting information on how their stories are being read and reacted to. They analyze these factors and put the results to use in the editorial process going forward. Needless to say, the goal is to lead public opinion in certain directions, putting it to work to further the aims of the Party and the Chinese government.

One key aspect of the Internet is, of course, its nature as a tool for the cross-border transmission of information. In advancing the Internet Plus strategy, though, the Chinese authorities are stressing “cyber sovereignty,” the right of individual states to control the Internet on a national level, and rolling out legislation like the Cybersecurity Law, which came into effect in June 2017. The stated goal is to prevent Internet-based attacks and criminal activity originating in China and elsewhere, but these moves are also rooted in fear of the spread of free thinking that could pose a threat to the Chinese authorities.

China is thus displaying amazing growth in its domestic Internet usage, but at the same time, by shutting itself off from global exchanges of information carried out via Google and social media networks like Facebook, it is developing into a nation closed off to the rest of the digital world. It will be most interesting to observe how this asymmetry in China’s Internet existence plays out in the future.

Kiyoshi Takai is professor at JF Oberlin University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

高井潔司 / 桜美林大学教授

2018年 3月 30日






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > China’s Internet Strategy: Present Approaches and Future Possibilities