From Dec 16 to 18, the second World Internet Conference was held at Wuzhen, “the Venice of China” in Zhejiang Province. Organized by the Chinese government, the conference attracted extra attention because of the ups and downs of cyber interactions between China and the United States in the course of 2015.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the opening ceremony and gave the keynote speech. It was a comprehensive presentation of China’s vision for cyberspace, in which Xi laid down four guiding principles and five proposals. His participation demonstrates the attention cybersecurity and Internet development have received from the Chinese leadership, while the conference itself highlighted Beijing’s desire to speak out on these issues and contribute to better governance in the cyber sphere. Driven by the world’s largest population of Internet users and China’s growing cyber capabilities, Beijing is clearly projecting a more confident image.
At the heart of Xi’s Wuzhen proposals are these keywords:
– “Shared by All”: The Internet has revolutionized our lives. Developed and developing countries, national governments and ordinary citizens have all benefited from information and communications technology (ICT). However, cyberspace is not immune to the so-called “Matthew effect” and has witnessed a growing digital divide. By putting its weight and resources behind the principle of “shared by all”, China tries to help more countries and peoples to enjoy the fruits of the Information Revolution;
– “Governed by All”: The international community agrees that to prevent the “law of the jungle”, it is important to establish order and norms in cyberspace. The open and multifarious nature of the Internet and the complicated character of cyber threats make it almost impossible to find a panacea or one-size-fits-all solution. All stakeholders, including national governments, must contribute their share;
– “Community of Shared Future in Cyberspace”: While ICT is an extraordinary enabler in facilitating sustainable development and reducing inequality in today’s world, we are all worse off when cyber crimes and attacks take place. As these threats recognize and respect no borders, no single country, organization or individual can keep a safe distance. As more societies become networked, it is neither responsible nor realistic to ensure one’s own security with no regard for others.
In short, on the basis of “shared by all” and through the path of “governed by all”, hopefully we can reach the goal of “community of shared future” in cyberspace. At Wuzhen, China, a responsible power hoping to help mankind steer a better course, has put forward its own proposals for improving cyber governance.
In Xi’s view, the various problems in cyberspace today boil down to “uneven development, incomplete rules and unreasonable order”. These are precisely the kinds of issues that China and the United States can work jointly to address.
In late September on the eve of President Xi’s state visit to Washington, the two countries reached consensus on cooperating for cybersecurity. Early this month, the inaugural China-US High-Level Joint Dialogue on Fighting Cyber Crimes and Related Issues produced a range of practical outcomes that included the guiding principles of bilateral cooperation, the establishment of a hotline, cooperation on the investigation of cases and cyber counterterrorism, and the training of law-enforcement officers. Thanks to the mechanisms that have been set up, Beijing and Washington are likely to set an example for international cooperation on an issue as vexing as cybersecurity.
In this context, the Wuzhen proposals provide a way for China and the United States to deepen and broaden their cyber cooperation.
First, recognizing that they have to work with each other for mutual benefit despite elements of competition, China and the United States must show leadership in limiting the abuse of ICT, opposing cyber attacks and developing international rules. Any common ground reached between the two will go a long way towards catalyzing a global framework.
Second, admittedly, China and the United States do not always see eye-to-eye on issues such as Internet governance and cyber security. These disagreements are natural and must be put into perspective. The bigger picture, which is often overlooked, is that the two sides are actually in agreement on more issues than people give them credit for. For example, contrary to conventional wisdom, China does not object to the participation of multiple stakeholders — national governments, international organizations, business and technology communities, civil society, etc. — in Internet governance. When it comes to the flow of data, China shares rather than rejects the view that “cyber is nothing if it is not interconnected and information means nothing if it is not shared”. No one can say a particular point of view is more “correct” than others. The nature of the Internet demands that we keep an open mind and learn from each other rather than shut out different views.
Third, as big powers, China and the United States need to show restraint in cyberspace. The recent bilateral agreements on cyber issues are welcome steps that will enhance strategic stability. A more favorable political environment must be created and more concrete steps must be taken if they are to be locked in and expanded. In this regard, the lopsided media coverage in the United States of the Wuzhen conference is not helpful. Many reports distort China’s constructive proposals by taking words such as “sovereignty” out of context and inserting words such as “control” into Xi’s mouth. Regrettable as they are, it would be most unfortunate if policy-makers in Washington take their cue from these inaccurate and biased media reports.
The fact of the matter is, China and the United States found ways to strengthen cooperation and manage disagreements at Wuzhen. The announcements by Apple Pay to partner with China UnionPay and by Microsoft to work with Chinese researchers to develop the Windows 10 operating system are but two instances of growing Sino-US cooperation in the cyber sphere. Such a trend will be a boon to not just the two societies, but also global stability in cyberspace.