China cyber watchdog rejects censorship critics, says internet must be 'orderly'

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top cyber authority on Thursday rejected a recent report ranking it last out of 65 countries for press freedom, saying the internet must be “orderly” and the international community should join it in addressing fake news and other cyber issues.

A computer network cable is seen above a Chinese flag in this July 12, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

Ren Xianliang, vice minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), said the rapid development of the country’s internet over two decades is proof of its success and that it advocates for the free flow of information.

“We should not just make the internet fully free, it also needs to be orderly... The United States and Europe also need to deal with these fake news and rumors” Ren told journalists without elaborating.

China enforces strict internet censorship rules, which have hardened this year with new restrictions on media outlets and surveillance measures for social media sites.

On Tuesday, U.S. NGO Freedom House released an annual report ranking China last in terms of internet freedom for the third year in a row, criticizing censorship activity targeting ethnic minorities, media and regular citizens.

The report also said the manipulation of social media had undermined elections in 18 countries over the past year.

This year China brought in new rules banning virtual private networks (VPNs) and other methods used to circumvent the country’s Great Firewall, which blocks foreign social media and news sites in the country.

The Cyberspace Administration also introduced laws making members of messaging app groups legally liable for content deemed offensive to socialist values.

It comes as China prepares to host the World Internet Conference, the country’s top public cyber policy forum, next month, where members of international governments and the UN will join local officials for a series of discussions on cyber governance.

Several foreign tech firms will also attend the event, including representatives from Facebook Inc, which is blocked behind the Great Firewall but used regularly abroad by Chinese state media outlets.

Ren on Thursday said China welcomed foreign firms to work in the country, on the condition that they abide by local rules and regulations.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Hugh Lawson