China wants to legitimize censorship by creating UN convention that will criminalize dissemination of “false information” online


  By Arsenio Toledo



China is calling on the United Nations (UN) to hold a new international convention that will seek to criminalize the dissemination of “false information” online.

The proposal was made by China during negotiations in Vienna, Austria about the provisions of a new UN treaty. There is broad support among the diplomats in the negotiations for a new UN convention, but there is disagreement on the details of what this convention will actually cover. (Related: Techno-authoritarianism is here to stay: China and the Deep State have joined forces.)

There is already an existing international convention regarding cybercrime, known as the Budapest Convention. But that’s not a UN treaty and not signed by China or by other major powers like Russia.

China’s proposal revolves around online content controls. The proposal would force the signatories of the treaty to introduce laws in their own nations that would make it a crime to spread so-called false information “that could result in serious social disorder.”

The proposal reads: “Each State Party shall adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal offenses, when committed intentionally and unlawfully, the publishing, distributing, transmitting or otherwise making available of false information that could result in serious social disorder, including but not limited to information related to natural and human-caused disasters.”

Chinese proposal likely to be strongly opposed

The negotiations in Vienna regarding the specifics of a new treaty have categorized the proposals into two: proposals with broad support and those which are more contested.



Provisions relating to controlling online content have all been placed in the more contested category. This means that these provisions will not be part of the immediate discussions regarding the language of the treaty.

Many Western nations are expected to contest the Chinese proposal, seeing it as a potential threat to international human rights standards and also as a clear attempt to legitimize the repressive internet control mechanisms of China and other like-minded authoritarian governments.

Karine Bannelier, an associate professor of international law at the Universite Grenoble Alps in France, noted that a similar proposal by Russia for dealing with “content-related” crimes has already been relegated to the category of contested provisions.

Russia’s proposal was for a provision that criminalizes “the distribution of materials that call for illegal acts motivated by political, ideological, social, racial, ethnic or religious hatred.”

“One could then think that offenses related to online content, with their huge potential impact on human rights, will not reappear in the main draft,” noted Bannelier. “This was without counting on the skillful maneuvers of Chinese diplomats.”