According to Chinese President Xi Jinping, every country should have independent control over its own Internet. But rights groups have said China is only trying to justify its own efforts to enforce authority online.
In an address at the World Internet Conference in the eastern city of Wuzhen in Zhejiang province, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged governments to respect national sovereignty over the Internet and cooperate in regulating Internet use, Chinese state media reported.
"Countries have the right to independently choose how they will tread the path of cyber development as well as issue their own regulations and public policies," the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying.
"No country should pursue cyber hegemony or interfere in other country's internal affairs," the Chinese president added. Xi also stressed that no country should support online activities that could undermine the national security of other countries.
"We should allow users to express their ideas, and we should also build a good order in cyberspace in accordance with law, as it will help protect the legitimate rights and interests of all Internet users."
But critics have said China uses the notion of national security as a pretence to crack down on political dissent.
Activists call for boycott
Chinese state media also reported that more than 2,000 participants from over 120 territories were expected at the conference, including leaders from tech giants Apple, Microsoft, and Nokia. Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, as well as political leaders from the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were all expected to attend.
But with US democracy watchdog Freedom House reporting that China had the most restrictive Internet policies of 65 countries studied, below Cuba, Iran and Syria, human rights campaigners have called for a total boycott of the conference.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama reached an agreement regarding cyber attacks earlier this year
China is known for censoring online content deemed to be politically sensitive, blocking certain Western websites and social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Xi's government has even tightened controls since he came to power in 2013, operating an extensive Internet monitoring and censorship program dubbed abroad as the "Great Firewall."
Amnesty International has condemned the use of vaguely worded laws by Chinese authorities to "arbitrarily target individuals for solely exercising their right to freedom of expression online."
"Under the guise of sovereignty and security, the Chinese authorities are trying to rewrite the rules of the internet so censorship and surveillance become the norm everywhere," said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.
"This is an all-out assault on Internet freedoms."
Cybercrime in China's new world order
The conference, organized by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Chinese agency in charge of enforcing Internet controls, came almost three months after US President Barack Obama had reached an agreement with Xi saying that neither government would support cyber-attacks to promote their own domestic policies. The US had charged five Chinese military officers with stealing secrets from American companies in 2014.
Security experts claim that China is the biggest source of hacking attacks aimed at governments and companies. Xi appealed to attendees at the conference, saying that cyberspace should "not be a battlefield."
"There should be no double standards in safeguarding network security," he said.
"Like in the real world, freedom and order are both necessary in cyberspace: Freedom is what order is meant for, and order is the guarantee for freedom."
ss/sms (AP, AFP, dpa)