China Seeking International Law for State Control of Internet
March 09, 2017
China is seeking an international agreement to enhance state
control over the internet in order to fight cyberattacks and
cyberterrorism. Beijing wants to extend the existing idea of
sovereignty over land and sea to cyberspace.
Beijing has released its first white paper discussing how it
will persuade different countries to join together in an
international partnership. The idea is to enhance the power of
individual governments over cyberspace and reduce the role of
the private sector.
"Countries in the whole world have increasing concerns [about
cyberattacks] in this regard. Cyberspace should not be a space
of no laws," Long Zhou, coordinator of the Cyber Affairs
division of the Foreign Ministry said last week while releasing
copies of "International Strategy of Cooperation on Cyberspace,"
China's first policy paper on the issue.
Analysts see it as a grandiose plan to extend the Chinese idea
of censorship across large parts of the world. China has been
criticized in developed countries for controlling the internet
with a heavy hand and not allowing Google, Facebook, Twitter and
many foreign news websites to be seen in China.
The first set of organizations that will be hit, if the Chinese
campaign gains momentum, are American companies that play a
dominant role in the internet space, analysts said.
"The inventors of cyberspace were idealistically and
ideologically convinced that they had created a domain of
perfect freedom, where anyone could gain entry and behave as if
no laws existed," Sheila Jasanoff, director of the program on
science, technology and society at Harvard University's Kennedy
School told VOA.
"It has been interesting to see how this allegedly wide open and
free space has gradually been 'written over' with all the
markers of national sovereignty and rivalry," she said.
Russian role in U.S. polls
China is taking advantage of the uproar in the United States
over alleged cyberattacks by Russia to interfere in the recent
Asked about the alleged Russian interference, Long said,
"Especially in recent years, the number of cybersecurity events
throughout the world is increasing, posing challenges to all
countries' efforts to maintain political, economic stability and
protecting all citizens' rights and interests."
Lee Branstetter, an associate professor of economics at the
Heinz School of Policy and Management of the Carnegie Mellon
University, saw the situation differently.
"The China solution is a proposal to create huge barriers to the
free flow of information across borders. It is hard to see how a
global digital economy could function under such a regime," he
Beijing action plan
China is trying to persuade world governments and international
agencies, including the United Nations, to accept the principal
of "cyber sovereignty" that allows each country to govern the
internet in the manner it wants without interference from other
governments. Long said the concept of land and sea sovereignty,
which is recognized by the U.N., should be extended to the cyber
world because the problems and situations are similar.
He said the international community is discussing the need to
"produce new international legal instruments to deal with the
security situation in cyberspace." These situations include
cyberterror or cross-boundary cybercrimes.
China plans to raise the issue at different international forums
including U.N. agencies, the BRICS group — for Brazil, Russia,
India and China — and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The
Chinese endeavor has the support of Russia, which will join in
the campaign for making international rules on cyberspace, Long
said at a recent news conference.
Jasanoff is skeptical of the Chinese rationale.
is good reason to believe that China will do more to limit the
freedom of information of its citizens than to ensure its own
security with regard to things like critical infrastructure,"
she said. "The most effective firewall will likely be against
the creation of domestic networks of civilian information
exchange and protest."
Assertions of cybersovereignty from China and elsewhere are
happening at a time when national sovereignty is in decline for
many reasons, not least because the technological capability for
both creating and breaking through security systems is highly
dispersed, she said.
"Hackers for hire are distributed throughout the world, and
recent experiences at all kinds of major institutions shows that
hardly any are free from threats (and even the reality) of
cyberattacks," Jasanoff said.