China eyes Internet power
                 English.news.cn | 2014-03-08 21:01:20 | Editor: Zhu Ningzhu

BEIJING, March 8 (Xinhua) -- "Promote the healthy development of Internet finance," "implement China's broadband strategy" and "safeguard cyber-security" are mentioned in the government work report released during this week's annual session of China's top legislature.

The repeated references to the Internet signal its growing emphasis in China's economy.

A high-level central leading group established on Feb. 27 and headed by President Xi Jinping has been designed to lead and coordinate Internet security and informatization work among different sectors.

The group is one of three organs set up by the new leadership and led by members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. The other two include a state security committee and central leading team for comprehensively deepening reform.

Apart from the top-down attention, experts and industrial insiders also applauded the third group.

"The move is of profound strategic and practical significance," said Zhang Yaoxue, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, during the ongoing annual session of China's top political advisory body. Zhang led the invention of China's first Internet router in 1995.

"It represents a responsible attitude toward a nation and the people," Zhang said, noting that surging Internet expansion, especially mobile networks, will unleash unpredictable power that can be either constructive or destructive.

By January, China mobile net users had reached 838 million, nearly two-thirds of the country's population. Analysts have dubbed the Internet the virtual "infrastructure" for China's economic and social advancement.

Lei Jun, founder of China's Xiaomi Technology, even proposed that the government bring Internet development into the national strategy. Lei's company produces the most popular cell phone among Chinese youngsters.

LURKING SECURITY CRISIS

In June 2013, media unveiled the U.S. tapping program code-named PRISM, which exercises long-term and vast surveillance both at home and abroad. The revelation triggered a diplomatic earthquake and showed the public how fragile Internet security could be.

Wang Yukai, member of the Advisory Committee for State Information, said the disclosure also exposed latent security risks in China's cyber world.

"Security is actually a technological competition in which China, lacking core technology, has lagged behind due to excessive dependence on overseas equipment and information systems," Wang said. "Web security has been elevated to the national level."

Echoing his words, Zhang stressed that the problem does not simply affect the government, but exists in multiple fields, including finance, military affairs, industries and people's daily lives.

Huai Jinpeng, an academician of China Academy of Sciences, said the Internet's widespread use has brought the security issue closer to the public.

The surging popularity of Internet investment products could serve as an example. Yu'ebao, China's most popular Web-based financial service, has attracted around 81 million users with capital raised reaching nearly 500 billion yuan (81.7 billion U.S. dollars) since its launch in June 2013.

While the online product has brought great convenience and high yields, it has also aroused safety concerns.

"I used to be afraid of losing my wallet, but I now fear losing my cell phone, which is bound with many things, such as private data and bank accounts. Once the information leaks, it will be serious," Lei said.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

China's focus on "informatization" dates back to 1982, when the State Council, the cabinet, initiated a leading group to develop computers and large-scale integrated circuits headed by a then vice premier.

In the age of Big Data, China has stood at the same starting line with other nations, but its huge user group and infrastructure situation have brought about problems yet to be tackled, Huai said, adding that development between Eastern and Western regions is still unbalanced.

Although the country has nurtured IT companies with global reach, such as Tencent and Alibaba, an overall improvement across the sector is still badly needed.

An annual report released in October 2013 by the International Telecommunication Union ranks China as only 78th in the world in information technology development.

The good news is that policymakers are aware of the situation and have jumped into action by setting up a leading group at such a high level.

"Once the leading mechanism is formed, the next step is to identify the core issue of Web security and informatization," Huai said.

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