China’s restrictive cyberspace could become more open, the country’s president has claimed.
Xi Jinping said the development of his nation’s cyberspace was “entering a fast lane” and with it China’s doors would “only become more and more open” – even though Skype joined the country’s internet blacklist last month.
His comments were read out at China’s fourth annual World Internet Conference, which leading figures from several US tech giants attended, including Google chief executive Sundar Pichai for the first time.
Mr Pichai spoke at the forum even though the search engine has been hit by the ruling Communist Party’s hard-line stance on western websites and apps, with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and most Google products and services all banned.
Apple is one of the few major foreign firms with a presence in China and its boss Tim Cook revealed at the conference that developers had earned £12.6bn from the localised version of the App Store, representing around a quarter of global App Store takings.
Rival handsets have stolen market share from the iPhone in recent years, but Apple still counts China as its third largest region by sales thanks to its population of almost 1.4bn people.
Such is the size of the population, China’s biggest social media company – Tencen – overtook Facebook in value last month. It is worth £378bn – with 500 million people using its WeChat messaging app.
Despite President Xi’s apparent commitment to a “more open” cyberspace, any tech companies hoping to do business in China will need to adapt to far tougher restrictions than in the west.
China is committed to the idea of “cyber sovereignty” – allowing the state to manage and contain its own internet without external influence – and recent new rules require firms to store data locally and censor tools that allow users to subvert the so-called Great Firewall.
Apple has been criticised by rights groups for bowing to pressure from regulators and removing hundreds of apps from the Chinese App Store.