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Groundless to Blame China for Cyberspace Woes

Jul 11 , 2016
  • Lu Chuanying

    Research Fellow, Shanghai Institute for Int'l Studies

Although China’s cyberspace policies are little different from those adopted by other countries, China has been subject to external criticism, mainly focusing on cyberspace commercial theft and Internet sovereignty, due to, in part, the discrepancy between the cyberspace image China believes it holds and the one perceived by others. On the issues of cyber theft and Internet sovereignty, China’s stance and views are different with others.

As far as cyberspace commercial theft is concerned, China has been questioning the motives behind the US hyping. In the eyes of the United States, China’s Internet strategy supports hacking and stealing US companies’ intellectual property rights, and has caused US losses amounting to billions of dollars. From the perspectives of China, however, such accusations harbor ulterior political motives to damage China’s reputation. The US subsequently has taken a series of measures against China, including indicting officers of the People’s Liberation Army, arresting Chinese-American scientists and banning exports of computer chips to China’s super-computing centers. These measures, in turn, have made China firmly believe that the US cyberspace strategy is intended to contain China. The US, through its secret Prism program revealed by whistle blower Edward Snowden, gathered massive amounts of confidential information and intelligence from China’s Internet systems, hacked the websites of the Chinese government departments and a big number of research institutions, thus posing grave threats to China’s national security. Although the US has expressed willingness to hold talks with China to address their differences, the Chinese doubted such practices adopted by the US suggest an intention to solve the problem through dialogue.

For the time being, however, China and the US have, through the high-level dialogue mechanism on fighting cyber crimes, successfully managed their differences concerning cyber commercial theft. There have been very few reports in the media lately on this issue. Through the settlement of the cyber commercial theft issue, it could be seen that the Chinese government showed a positive and active attitude in solving the issue through cooperation and communications. China not only has set up the China-US dialogue and cooperation mechanism on cyber crimes and related issues, but also signed similar cooperation agreements with Britain and Germany. Furthermore, China also strongly supports the United Nations and the G20 efforts to strengthen the fight against cyber commercial thefts in multilateral mechanisms.

Compared with the prolonged conflicts on the South China Sea issue and the renminbi exchange-rate issue, the issue of cyber commercial theft seemed to be solved overnight. Does it mean that China and the US could address their major differences through cooperation, or does it mean that the issue of cyber commercial theft was actually over-hyped and exaggerated by the US government and the media? Those who believe the accusations were overplayed claim that the US so far has not come up with any hard evidence proving the so-called losses inflicted to US companies by such cyber commercial thefts, or how the losses were calculated, and the accusations against the Chinese government were simply based on some isolated reports issued by some companies. Some observers have questioned whether it is in the best interest of the US to play up some isolated, unconfirmed cases as factors that would affect the relations between the two countries.

Continuing external criticism against China also derives from China’s policy about Internet sovereignty. On this issue, China maintains a clear-cut stance; that is, the public policies on Internet governance are the sovereign matters of the related country, which has been proposed and upheld by the United Nations. External criticism mainly focuses on two aspects. First, the freedom of the Internet is a component of human rights and China’s cyberspace administration and supervision are a kind of infringement on human rights. Second, there is fear China advocates the concept of cyberspace sovereignty, and exports its cyberspace administration model, with the intent to break up the Internet.

The first question has roots in the ideological differences, and should be analyzed in the broader context of political and social environment. In the spectrum of freedom and order, Western countries emphasize more freedom, while Chinese society attaches more importance to social order. In the world of the Chinese Internet, if any rumor and untrue information is not deleted, the public would tend to believe it is true, because they would consider the government or the regulator has acquiesced it. From this perspective, society calls on the government or regulator to assume the role of a rumor crusher and Internet content manager. Furthermore, Chinese cyberspace is not yet well-matured and rational, and some rational views are, very often, overwhelmed by radical, paranoid and nationalistic frenzy. In particular, when some groundless information or rumors go viral on the cyberspace, they would likely cause serious harm to the social order. Government supervision of the cyberspace is actually the result of long-term interaction with such irrational cyberspace phenomena.

China’s Internet administration policies are not, as some people in the West tend to believe, human rights issues, but instead, about specific issues of governance capabilities. The majority of the public is less tolerant toward rumors and negative content, and therefore have no objection to the blocking or deletion of potentially harmful material. The public also believes that the biggest problem with the management of Internet content is actually the excessive or ineffective administration, which is caused by varied and uneven management capabilities and backward technological prowess.

The advocacy for Internet sovereignty has become a new worry of the Western countries about the governance of the cyberspace. By analyzing the concept, you will realize that China supports the concept of Internet sovereignty as a kind of extension of the non-interference principle in cyberspace. It is also a kind of passive response to Western countries’ criticism about China’s lack of Internet freedom, and the wide-ranging cyberspace espionage conducted by the United States. Any breakup of the Internet does not conform to the interests of China. President Xi Jinping, in his remarks at the Internet seminar held on April 19, has already made this very clear.

Cyberspace is a world of inter-connectivity and convergence of interests. In terms of ensuring the security, equality, freedom and development of the cyberspace, China shares the same goals with all other countries. Criticism does not help solve problems, while cooperation is the only way that conforms to the common interests of all parties.

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