Lu Wei, who cracked down on internet freedom and made Times 100 most influential people list, has been replaced
Chinas top internet regulator, who oversaw a severe tightening of internet freedoms during his tenure, has stepped down, reports said on Wednesday.
Lu Wei named as one of the worlds 100 most influential people last year by Time magazine had been in charge of supervising controls on online expression since taking over as head of the Cyberspace Administration of China in 2013.
China censors online content it deems politically sensitive, while blocking some western media websites and the services of companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Lu will be succeeded by Xu Lin, a deputy from the same department who joined in 2015 and previously served two years as the minister of propaganda for the city of Shanghai.
Xu Lin has replaced Lu Wei as the head of the Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing an official statement but providing no further details.
Xu worked alongside Chinas president, Xi Jinping, in Shanghai in 2007, when the latter was the citys communist party chief.
Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at thinktank the Atlantic Council, said: Its impossible for outsiders to know what Lu Weis departure might mean, but its clear that the space for open expression in China continues to shrink.
Colleague Roger Cliff, Senior Fellow: Lu Wei is not in any political or legal trouble, but Xi simply decided he wanted someone closer to him to be in charge of internet policy. I certainly would not interpret this move as a repudiation of Lu Weis approach to internet governance.
If anything I would expect to see a further increase in the Chinese governments efforts to monitor and control the internet within China as well as to influence the content of the internet outside of China.
Jon Huntsman, a former US ambassador to China, told Time in April last year that Lu imposed tougher regulations because of social-stability concerns.
Lus choices will either provide greater access to online freedom or further suppress the natural curiosity that thrives beneath the surface in China. Whatever he does, the gregarious former propaganda chief is certain to affect the lives of billions, he wrote.
Last year, a report by the American pro-democracy thinktank Freedom House found China had the most restrictive internet policies of 65 countries studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.
Lu was a powerful figure at home and abroad, where he commanded the attention of global technology companies eager for a piece of the Chinese market.
He was personally received by Mark Zuckerberg in 2014 at Facebooks Silicon Valley headquarters, and appeared in the front row of a family photo alongside Xi and top executives from American tech giants such as Amazon when the head of state visited the US in September last year.
It remains unclear whether Lu, who retains his position as deputy head of the ruling Communist partys Central Publicity Department, will take on additional roles.