BEIJING—China's top leaders will helm a new high-level committee to address Internet security, in a strong signal of Beijing's intent to tighten its grip on online discourse in the country and address sensitive cybersecurity issues.
In its evening newscast on Thursday, the official China Central Television said Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping presided over the first meeting of the group, called the Central Internet Security and Information Leading Group. It said the group's deputy heads include the party's No. 2 official, Premier Li Keqiang, and a top party official for propaganda, Liu Yunshan.
The group, which the broadcast said was set up to address the growing number of cyberattacks and other Internet security issues facing China, will work to turn the country into a "global Internet power" and promote socialist values.
"Doing a good job guiding public opinion is a long-term mission," CCTV quoted Mr. Xi as saying. "It requires innovative Internet propaganda, Internet broadcasting discipline."
While it isn't clear where the new committee will sit in terms of the Chinese government, its membership shows it will wield considerable power over the world's largest Internet market by users.
Mr. Xi's presence "reflects China's response to ongoing criticism that its activities in this space are not especially organized and consistent with other governments around the world trying to bring greater coherence to this policy realm," said Jimmy Goodrich, director of global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, a technology industry group. "With Xi in charge, he can certainly claim that's not true anymore."
Chinese officials have said they would form the committee amid rising global concerns over cyberspying.
Formation of the group comes nearly a year after U.S. officials said they were considering countermeasures to address what they called a ramp-up in Chinese cyberspying. At the same time, Thursday's official media reports about the committee cited details of U.S. cyberspying activities revealed by Edward Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor.
China has long maintained it is a victim of cyberattacks. The CCTV report said Mr. Snowden's revelations "rocked the world" and "highlighted the dilemmas of ensuring Internet security."
The creation of the new group is also an indication a continued crackdown on China's online social media, which offers its citizens a platform for discourse outside traditional state-controlled media.
Late last year the government warned and punished a number of well-known social media commentators and also punished accounts linked to the spread of what it says are rumors and personal attacks. Critics say the moves are aimed at quashing dissent and the discussion of sensitive topics online.
In a November explanation of the Chinese Communist Party's reform blueprint, the party said the Internet poses "a new comprehensive challenge" to the country's stability, adding that the government's management of information flows online have lagged behind "the rapid growth of social networking and instant communication tools…which disseminate information rapidly, have a large influence and broad coverage and have a strong ability to mobilize society."
The committee may weigh in on the issue of equipment procurement, as cybersecurity concerns have dealt setbacks to foreign companies trying to sell technology in the lucrative market.
Last year, Qualcomm Inc. QCOM +0.01% 's chief executive said U.S. restrictions on Chinese companies and NSA surveillance were affecting the company's business in China. Following the admission, China's National Development and Reform Commission said it had begun an antimonopoly probe aimed at the chip maker. Qualcomm has said it isn't aware of any activity that violates China's antimonopoly law and will continue to cooperate with the NDRC, which partly oversees antitrust issues.
Late last year Cisco Systems Inc. CSCO +0.25% Chief Executive John Chambers also said the company faced difficulties selling into China. When asked on an earnings call late last year whether the storm around NSA surveillance was hampering China business, Mr. Chambers said "it is an impact in China." Rob Lloyd, Cisco's president of development and sales, said the government tension was causing customers to pause.
Adam Segal, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said China has "made it clear consistently that they want Chinese companies producing these technologies."
He added, "it's not going to get worse but it's not going to get better" for foreign firms.
This article can also be found on the Wall Street Journal's website.