Russian authorities should lift block on WeChat soon to minimize harmful effects

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/8 22:13:39

The Russian authorities need to unblock WeChat as soon as possible once the popular mobile communication tool, developed by Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings, meets the requirements of Russia's regulations for Internet management.

WeChat was blocked because of its failure to offer contact details for Russia's register of online service providers, according to media reports. Whether this is the case or not, the consequences of blocking WeChat are potentially very serious. The Russian authorities need to minimize the impact of the ban through proper explanations and more active communication.

The ban on WeChat follows the blocking of Blackberry Messenger and some other communication tools, triggering speculation that Moscow is pushing for greater control of the Internet. WeChat's case could serve as a warning for other popular applications including US-based Twitter and Facebook. It seems that Russia's investment environment for overseas Internet companies is deteriorating, resulting in a substantial weakening of Russia's ability to attract Internet-related investment amid a slower-than-expected economic recovery.

What's more, the blocking of WeChat has triggered wide complaints from Chinese tourists, students and businessmen in Russia, who see WeChat as an essential channel for connecting with people in China. The block is likely to cause a lot of confusion until people turn to new communication channels. We cannot rule out the possibility that trade, tourism and investment between China and Russia may suffer a blow as a result.

The Russian authorities should assess the negative impact of the block and be ready to strengthen communication and coordination with Tencent in a bid to ensure the ban is as short as possible.

Tencent should also properly handle relevant issues and strictly abide by Russia's official regulations on the Internet. It is neither the first time, and unlikely to be the last time that Chinese Internet-related companies encounter this kind of block as they expand their business overseas. More countries in the world are increasingly viewing the Internet as a political threat and are strengthening supervision, which deserves attention from Chinese companies.

Besides, the Internet sector is an emerging industry without international common practices for regulation, so each country may adopt a different system based on its own social context to manage Internet-related companies, setting up obstacles for Chinese companies in expanding their business.

Internet-related companies play a vanguard role in leading China's outbound direct investment, so China needs to learn how to handle issues relating to Internet control imposed by other countries.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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