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China’s top Internet cop

China’s top Internet cop

This is Li Wufeng, China’s top Internet cop.

A quiet man who fidgets in his seat and whose voice is at times nearly inaudible, Li is the director-general of China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO), the agency in charge of regulating Internet content inside China. I and a handful of other Western journalists met with Li for an hour today in the SCIO’s main office in Beijing.

Li started by giving us the latest stats on China’s Internet presence. They are impressive, including 120 million Internet users and 30 million bloggers. Staggering numbers, particularly considering the extent to which the Chinese state continues to control the Internet. This is a subject Li pooh-poohs. In fact, by his account, China not only doesn’t censor the Internet, it doesn’t even know how. 

We have neither the technology nor the manpower” to censor or filter the Internet, Li told us. “We have just dozens of people in the Internet affairs bureau. Half of them are here today [in the room],” he added.

It was a strange denial, especially considering the large amount of time Li spent more or less defending China’s Internet censorship. Repeatedly pressed by the journalists in the room, Li said that “it is an international practice to regulate or filter the Internet” and that “China has adopted the international practice … just like the United States.” I told Li that I found it hard to believe that China does not have the technology or manpower to censor or filter the Web, particularly given the large number of high-profile cases, including, by some accounts, the blocking of nytimes.com and some human rights Web sites from within China. Li went on the defensive. “We have our own choice of the Internet content” within China, he said. “If someone is shouting bad things about me from outside my window, I have the right to close that window.” Sound strangely like an admission? It did to me, too.