The BBC has warned that Chinese proposals to re-engineer the plumbing of the internet could lead to more censorship of the World Service by dictatorships.
The broadcaster has told MPs that Beijing-led proposals at the United Nations would, if implemented, “provide an easy means to inhibit the flow of international media”.
In evidence submitted to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, it warned that the Chinese effort to radically alter internet standards had a strong chance of passing through the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) without vocal opposition from nations including the UK.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, along with state-run companies and the telecoms giant Huawei, have proposed an idea known as “New IP”, or “future vertical communication networks” at the ITU.
The proposed standard would allow for much greater control over network traffic, which its supporters say would make networks more efficient for the arrival of technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, and update protocols designed when the internet was largely used in universities and military facilities. Backers also say it would mean internet networks enjoying better security.
However, critics say they would give authoritarian governments much greater control over internet traffic, allowing them to surveil citizens and curb freedom of speech.
“China is currently promoting a new method of managing internet traffic that will, if successful, provide an easy means to inhibit the flow of international media,” the World Service wrote.
It added that the country could muster enough support to pass the proposals, and that the World Service was a crucial foil to Chinese and Russia’s own media outlets.
BBC World News was blocked from broadcasting in China and Hong Kong in February, in apparent retaliation for Ofcom revoking the licence of state broadcaster CGTN.
The World Service urged British representatives at the ITU to fight the Chinese proposal. “UK influence at the ITU will be key to future decisions on the way the internet operates internationally,” it said.