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U.S., China Discuss 'Free And Open Internet,' Mostly Behind Closed Doors

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
China's internet czar Lu Wei delivered an animated speech Wednesday to the U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum, held on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.

Software giant Microsoft had several chances Wednesday to impress Chinese leaders with the company's vision of a "free and open" Internet.

Chinese and American industry and government executives huddled behind closed doors at Microsoft headquarters for much of the day to talk about how to improve business conditions.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived at the Microsoft campus in mid-afternoon, in time to have his picture taken with U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum attendees and tech titans such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. He chatted with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and company co-founder Bill Gates before receiving a demonstration of several new gadgets including virtual reality goggles called HoloLens. Xi did not try the glasses on.

In brief remarks to a crowd, Xi defended his nation’s technology policies. He said countries should be able to promulgate domestic internet rules “in line with their national realities.”

Earlier, Microsoft Executive VP Harry Shum welcomed more than 200 high-tech executives, government regulators and leading academic thinkers from the world's two largest economies to the eighth annual Sino-U.S. internet forum.

“Microsoft is committed to being a catalyst for breakthroughs with the potential for global impact on society,” Shum said. “At the heart of this is a free and open internet.”

Shum shared the stage with Chinese government minister Lu Wei, commonly referred to as China's internet czar.

Minister Lu spoke emphatically about cooperating on issues such as cybersecurity and greater market opening in an effort "to achieve mutual benefit and mutual victory."

In the audience were several companies that have had a rough go in China including Facebook and Uber.

Only the first hour of the day-long U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum was open to the media. Among the subsequent closed sessions was one devoted to an emerging bilateral challenge, cloud computing and Big Data.

In the opening session, Shum brought up the issue of "data residency/data sovereignty," an apparent reference to expected Chinese requirements that foreign companies locate data centers containing information about Chinese citizens on Chinese soil.

"Cross-border data flows are so critical to a free and open internet," U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews said. He added that he hoped to discuss how to keep national security laws "as narrow as possible to not impede the ability of companies to compete and frankly, to collaborate and to work together. We do not want to give new tools to bureaucrats to use to block the entrance of products and services."

Seattle-based business analytics company Tableau Software opened its first office in China just last month. Tableau helps other businesses analyze their troves of customer, sales and market data.

"So far, we've been pleasantly surprised with how well things have gone," Tableau Senior Vice President for Corporate Development and Strategy Jay Peir said in an interview about his company's experience in China. "The way we're doing business hasn't been significantly different than anywhere else we sell our software."

Peir described the allure of the expanding Chinese economy similarly to other high tech executives in Seattle this week. Especially relevant to his company is the observation that China has "the fastest growing business intelligence market."

Tableau did not participate in the forum hosted by Microsoft.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.