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

Ted S. Warren
Chinese President Xi Jinping gives a speech at Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Wash., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015.

Software giant Microsoft got several chances on Wednesday to impress Chinese leaders with the company's vision of a "free and open" internet. Microsoft's CEO showed the president of China new gadgets at the corporate campus.

Meanwhile, Chinese and American industry and government executives huddled behind closed doors there for much of the day to talk about how to improve business conditions.

Microsoft executive vice president, Harry Shum welcomed more than two hundred high-tech executives, government regulators and leading academic thinkers from the world's two largest economies.

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

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.”

Credit Ted S. Warren
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, talks with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, right, during a gathering of CEOs and other executives at Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Wash., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015.

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 so-called data residency or 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," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews. He said 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.”

Credit Courtesy of Tableau Software
Tableau Software Senior VP Jay Peir

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," said Tableau Senior Vice President for Corporate Development and Strategy Jay Peir 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,” he said.

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.

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 other 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.”

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.