(UR) Beijing — “But in his rise to become China’s Internet custodian, he has demonstrated a canny awareness of the power of the Internet and social media, while also proving adept at the far older art of manipulating public opinion to benefit the party.”

Those words, from a 2014 article in the New York Times, describe Lu Wei — the man who, until very recently, was the chief Internet regulator in what that same publication noted was “already the world’s most sophisticated system of online censorship.”

On Wednesday, however, the Xinhua News Agency — the official media arm of the People’s Republic of China — reported that Lu Wei would be stepping down as the country’s Internet czar. This, according to the Associated Press.

Depicted by the AP as “one of the Communist Party’s rising stars and an ambitious ally of President Xi Jinping,” Wei had, since 2014, been chief of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs — a powerful regulatory body overseen by President Xi, himself.

But Wei’s visibility within the party had been steadily increasing since 2010, when — according to the Times — he “argued that China should bolster its control over the way information is disseminated internationally in new technologies, like the Internet.”

And as Wei’s influence grew — he had taken over as head of the State Information Office by 2013, and had earned the position of director of the Central Leading Group by the following year — so, too, was China’s infamy for being willing and able to quell dissident speech in cyberspace.

“Lu Wei was the right man, at the right position, at the right moment,” Rogier Creemer, an Oxford research scholar who focuses on China, told the Times. “The traditional guard that ran the propaganda department were slightly too hidebound.”

By August 0f 2014, for instance, the Wall Street Journal was reporting that China would begin ramping up constraints on the country’s instant messaging services — platforms that were becoming increasingly popular arenas for political discussion and debate.

Then, in June of 2015, the government dropped all pretense of tolerance for anti-establishment thought and announced the launch of an official cyber police force, the “Internet Police Inspection and Law Enforcement.” The move signaled a major shift in the Communist party’s tactics regarding opposition from its citizenry, switching from a largely reactionary approach to regulating speech to a far more proactive one.

In essence, the government would now start hunting its dissidents.

Then, in June of 2015, the government dropped all pretense of tolerance for anti-establishment thought and announced the launch of an official cyber police force, the “Internet Police Inspection and Law Enforcement.” The move signaled a major shift in the Communist party’s tactics regarding opposition from its citizenry, switching from a largely reactionary approach to regulating speech to a far more proactive one.

In essence, the government would now start hunting its dissidents.

By the end of 2015 — as AntiMedia has previously reported — China rolled out a “social credit system” that, in effect, “gamified obedience to the State.” Citizens would be given a social credit score based on the type of content they — and even their friends and families — post online. The better the party looks in your posts, the higher your score. And vice versa.

And all of this took place under Lu Wei’s guiding hand.

But Wei was not only the driving force behind the most restrictive cyber policies on the planet — known colloquially as “the Great Firewall” — he was also instrumental in keeping foreign social media platforms from gaining traction in his native country.

Chinese citizens are blocked from accessing Facebook and Twitter, for example, largely due to concerns that the populace — if allowed to exchange ideas and engage in discussions freely with people in the world who are permitted to speak their minds — might begin to grow restless in the homeland.

Even Apple has recently been left out in the cold.

In April, the technology giant was told that it must halt its streaming services to China — the company’s second largest market — after the country introduced new restrictions on online publishing.

Even now, as Lu Wei has stepped down as China’s premier propagandist, these policies are unlikely to change anytime soon. The man set to replace Wei is Xu Lin, Wei’s right hand man and former underling to President Xi Jinping. So it appears that, with regard to cyberspace, the China that Lu Wei envisioned will live long into the future.

Or, as Rogier Creemers summed up for the Associated Press:

“Lu’s most important achievement was that he took a government that was scared of the Internet and changed it into a government that was very much in control of the Internet. From the Chinese policy perspective, it was very innovative, very effective.”


This article (China Now Has the “Most Sophisticated” Censorship Program on the Planet) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to James Holbrooks and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to undergroundreporter2016@gmail.com. Image credit: Flickr/methodshop.com