The Chinese Communist Party has launched the countries first ever cyber policy paper in which it attempts to mount a defence of its preferred “cyber-sovereignty” framework.
What is Cyber-sovereignty?
Cyber-sovereignty is a term that may sound completely alien to most internet users. It is the term used to describe China’s preference for nation states to be able to make their own decisions over how the internet is governed for their people.
It is a policy which the Chinese Government has pushed hard for a long-term and is the basis of their much-maligned World Internet Conferences which global tech companies arrive in China hoping to increase business opportunities and depart with their ears ringing to several days of endless propaganda.
Obviously, China is a country which already exerts a great deal of control over the internet in its own country. The Communist Party overseas the world largest online censorship programme, known as the Great Firewall, and also the most intrusive online surveillance systems as well.
The policy has proved popular with other authoritarian regimes around the world, with many central Asian countries adopting their own version of it, and Russia also working closely with China on building state control of their own internet.
The justification being used for this approach is, inevitably, security. Just as countries across the world are using security as a reason to undermine online freedoms and privacy, so it is China’s reason for taking matters to an extreme.
Speaking at the launch of the new policy paper, Long Zhou, a representative of the Foreign Ministry’s Cyber Affairs department said: “Cyberattacks, cyber espionage, surveillance have become major issues confronting all countries.”
He explained that the internet was teeming with subversive thought, religious extremism, pornography, fake news and financial scams and that China believed effective governance was necessary to counter these.
His words echoed those of China’s Xi Jinping at their own World Internet Conference in 2015 when he said it was necessary “create a fine cyberspace order following relevant laws” and that this was more important than any rights to freedom of expression that might be undermined.
Also interesting about the new paper is that it is being targeted at a new audience. Whilst Russia was mentioned, the officials launching the paper also stressed a focus on BRICS (the biggest global developing economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
China “stands ready to work together with Russia and BRICS partners” explained Long Zhou, before going on to say that they would happily share their “wisdom, experience and resources” with other developing nations.
There was, however, a begrudging acceptance that not all of these countries will be willing to go down the same authoritarian road that the Chinese Communist Party has led China.
He said, “Every country needs to decide on the balance between freedom and order and we have to respect how each country reaches that decision.”
Long also went on to urge developed countries to avoid confrontation over cyber affairs which he said the Chinese Government didn’t believe was conducive to world peace. However, he then undermined his argument somewhat by going on to announce that China would be expanding its own cyber-warfare provisions which he said was “an important part of military modernization.”
This is, of course, the very same team of hackers who are responsible for so much of the state-backed hacking that occurs around the world.
In summary, the new Chinese Cyber paper is another effort by the Chinese regime to make the case for its own intrusive online policies. These have got progressively worse over the past couple of years and it still remains the case in China that without a VPN, you cannot access an uncensored internet and you cannot do anything you wouldn’t want the authorities to see.
As this paper shows, these ideas are now entrenched in China, which means that the worlds largest and most tech-savvy populations will not be able to enjoy free access to the full internet anytime soon.