Telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele has played down fears that South Africa is cosying up to China on cybersecurity and Internet governance.
The Asian country’s government, which routinely blocks access to websites and online services it deems subversive, is widely regarded in the west as an enemy of free speech and civil liberties.
In July, Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn raised concern about a cybersecurity pact that the South African government had signed this year with the Chinese.
Apart from cybersecurity, the agreement reportedly deals with broadband strategies for rural access, investment in telecoms services, e-government, e-skills and Internet governance.
Shinn expressed concern about the agreement given China’s “pervasive level of government surveillance of its citizens”.
“China has one of the most aggressive regimes of surveillance of Internet traffic, using the country’s networks to block websites it deems unfriendly to its national interests,” Shinn said.
“The DA believes that for the South African government to contemplate cooperating with this kind of oppression is contrary to the bill of rights contained in our constitution.”
But Cwele said in an interview with TechCentral on Monday there was no reason for concern. His interactions with Chinese companies and with the Chinese government were no different to those he has had with other countries’ companies and governments, he said.
“We talk to all companies. I meet British, American, South African, Chinese companies. I try and create opportunities to meet with all companies,” he said. “Parties are worried about this thing of China. We are with China in the Brics (the political grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), but we are not preferring Chinese companies only.”
He said that when it comes to governance of the Internet, South Africa is concerned about security, especially “minimising unnecessary surveillance of citizens” by the state and ensuring citizens are shielded from cybercrime.
There has been no discussion among the Brics partners about suppressing access to the Internet, he said.
He said, too, that China is reforming. “The China of now is quite different from the China of old. It’s changing and opening up. The Chinese themselves are changing and becoming global citizens.”
Cwele said that although he travelled to China this year, it was on ANC party business and not as a representative of the South African government.
He met his Chinese and Russian counterparts this year, but both of those meetings took place on South African soil. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media