more on Iceland’s representative at China Internet conference

Stundin reports on Iceland’s participation in the Wuzhen 乌镇 Internet conference last December. As I mentioned back then, Ragnar Baldursson, minister-counsellor at the country’s embassy in Beijing, had the honour of being the only Western representative quoted by Chinese state media as “highly praising” Xi Jinping’s opening speech.

Said media were understandably short of Western representatives to interview. Although several other countries sent embassy staff to the summit, Western governments seem to have tried to avoid endorsing an event meant to advance the Chinese state’s Internet control policies. Writing for the Chinese edition of the Financial Times, Cao Xin 曹辛 refers to a Dec 11 meeting at an undisclosed Beijing embassy, where EU, French, German and Japanese diplomats discussed the upcoming Wuzhen meeting and agreed not to take part in it. Regardless of whether the alleged meeting actually took place, the fact is that no Western leaders attended the event.

An Icelandic foreign ministry spokesperson told Stundin that the Chinese government had actually invited Iceland’s president to the summit, but that they decided to just send an embassy counsellor instead. That’s a bit more junior than a president, but the Chinese authorities might still appreciate that the Icelandic representative agreed to provide a soundbite to the People’s Daily. Although what he actually said was pretty inocuous, it was only to be expected that it would be spun as an endorsement of Xi’s ‘cyber sovereignty’ speech. Ragnar, the Icelandic minister-counsellor, is an old China hand and surely someone familiar with the habits of Chinese state media.

The foreign ministry statement adds that Ragnar was only there on the first day of the summit, and that “there was no discussion on censorship”.