30 Years of Internet in China: Between past growth and future challenges

Loading Events

Event description

Online Anniversary Symposium

(14:00 – 15.00 CEST / 12:00 – 13.00 UTC)

This message was given by Madam Hu Qiheng, a computer scientist who connected China to the internet on 20 April 1994.

Compared with 30 years ago, the progress is so fast now, and for those who are hurrying to catch the pace with AI, there is perhaps not much time to review the past.

To my understanding, all happened because of the two great events. The internet, epoch-making creativity, sprang up from the West while in China, we had been in the Reform and Open-Door age. Because of those two great events, with the impact of the internet, China started to embrace the world market, and China’s booming economy became world-shacking.

At the same time, because of the joining of China, the world had also changed profoundly.

I wish the Symposium complete success. 

Hu Qiheng

6 April 2024
Beijing, China

On 20 April 1994, China connected to the internet. It was one of the most important developments in the digital history of the 20th century. Digitalisation has been the engine behind the rise of the Chinese economy, lifting millions out of poverty. Today, China has 1.050 billion Internet users, or 20% of the global Internet population. China displays a vibrant digital economy and is home to many leading digital companies.

In the 1990s, U.S. technology was largely employed to build the ‘Eight Vertical and Eight Horizontal’ fibre-optic backbone, a nationwide grid-shaped fibre-optic network representing the Chinese internet’s core. As globalisation boomed, China and the West became increasingly intertwined by growing flows of trade, finance, and by the decentralisation of production, which engendered today’s complex global value chains. The use of Chinese platforms has boomed. China has also enacted a wide range of digital legislation on data security, personal information protection, and digital governance.

In less than two decades, however, telecommunications and mobile technology became the first well-established fields of geopolitical rivalry between the US and China. This dispute for leadership is spreading through a vast array of so-called ‘critical and emerging technologies’, including artificial intelligence. Tension is rising between the two digital powers, and measures have been put in place to restrict access to each other’s digital markets.

On the occasion of this 30th anniversary, Diplo will host a discussion focusing on past growth and future challenges of Chinese digitalisation.

The discussion will address, among others, the following questions:

  • What is the significance of the last 30 years of Internet deployment in China to developing the global internet?
  • What are the expectations for the future of China’s internet?
  • What are the main trends in AI and digital regulation in China?
  • What is China’s current and possible future role internationally in AI and digital governance?

of the major global IG and digital policy developments.

Provisional list of panelists

  • Jovan Kurbalija, Director of Diplo & Head of Geneva Internet Platform
  • Lee Xiaodong, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Fuxi Institution & Professor, Tsinghua University
  • Liu Hao, Executive Chair, School of Global Governance, Beijing Institute of Technology
  • Rogier Creemers, Assistant Professor and Lecturer in Modern Chinese Studies, University of Leiden
  • Sorina Teleanu, Director of Knowledge, Diplo


  • Marilia Maciel, Head of Digital Commerce and Internet Policy, Diplo

Share on your social media!