At the 2014 meeting on cyberspace, which was itself a sign of the Xi Jinping’s consolidation of top-level Party control over a host of policy areas, including information technology, Xi Jinping stated that “without cybersecurity there can be no national security,” and without “informatization” – meaning progress toward an information-based society – there “can be no modernization.” This idea placed the development of the internet at the very center of China’s overall development across a range of concerns, from economic growth and job creation, to social management and national security.
At the conference, Xi emphasised: “[We] must develop the digital economy, accelerating the promotion of digital industrialisation.” He also stressed the need to develop China’s own indigenous technologies, throwing off over-reliance on foreign technologies, another aspect of security. “Building a strong cyber power means we must have our own technologies, and have technologies that are masterful,” he said.
In a nutshell, building China as a “strong cyber power” is about promoting the deeper integration of the internet with big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and manufacturing, with the digital economy conceived as a key foundation for future economic development. But all of this must happen while maintaining the CCP’s grip on power and the agenda.
Xi repeatedly referenced the need to safeguard the regime, a priority closely bound up with the broader idea of cybersecurity in China. “To build a strong cyber power,” Xi said, “we must gather together our human resources and create a strong team having strong politics, industriousness and a good work style.” Strong politics of course means an unflagging commitment to the CCP’s line. Referencing familiar phrases from China’s media control discourse, Xi made clear that the process of building a strong cyber power would go hand-in-hand with the ideological controls of the CCP: “Under the premise of adhering to the correct political direction, and to [correct] public opinion guidance and value orientation . . . [we] must enhance the attractiveness and infectivity of content, raising the quality and level of public opinion channeling work.”
In October 2015, the Fifth Plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the CCP, which introduced the 13th Five-Year Plan, clearly raised again the need for a “strong cyber power strategy” (网络强国战略), which was closely related to “internet plus” (互联网+), a program for the application of internet technologies to traditional industries that was outlined in March 2015 by Premier Li Keqiang in his annual Government Work Report.
The concept of a “strong cyber power” is now regarded in official Chinese discourse as being an integral part of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想), Xi’s personal legacy buzzword, or qizhiyu (旗帜语).