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China trying to export its Great Firewall and governance model

China is actively trying to export its internal internet governance model, according to a paper from the International Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Titled “China’s cyber vision: How the Cyberspace Administration of China is building a new consensus on global internet governance”, the paper outlines how China perceives sovereignty over its internet as having equivalent importance to sovereignty over its territory.

Recent data security initiatives that restrict Chinese data from going offshore, and crackdowns on tech giants, are both expressions of Beijing’s desire to ensure that the Communist Party of China (CCP) can control the internet within China’s borders.

Pervasive censorship with the Great Firewall is another element, as are the blizzard of new rules covering acceptable online content (another dropped yesterday, restricting how celebrities can behave online as they engage with fans).

China is also working to share the rules with which it governs its own internet with other nations, and to “enact policies jointly with international governments and companies on mechanisms to co-govern the global internet, or at least growing national segments of it, while reshaping global norms and standards based on the model of the CCP’s approach domestically,” the paper states.

A key tool for that effort is the World Internet Conference – an event that despite its name has only ever been staged in China since its inception in 2014. The 2021 edition of the conference attracted speakers including Elon Musk, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, and Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon.

“The World Internet Conference serves as an opportunity for China to collaborate with the international community on internet development innovation in addition to cooperating on internet co-governance mechanisms,” the paper explains, adding that the event is pitched as an international forum but in reality is “under the direct management and supervision of officials under China’s cyber policy system”.

Technical standards are another front

The USA is also worried that China is attempting to dominate the organisations that control technical standards, and in April 2021 vowed that it would “lead in international standard-setting bodies that set the governance norms and rules for critical digitally enabled technologies”.

The conference advances China’s vision for the global internet, which is described with phrases such as “promoting openness and cooperation” and “building a sound order”.

“Although those ideas sound innocuous, the CCP plans to encourage cooperation in cyberspace in order to extend its vision of cyberspace to countries that look to the PRC for assistance in accelerating development of internet infrastructure,” the paper states.

The paper concludes that China’s efforts need to be considered cautiously.

“Due to the lack of transparency within China’s cyber policy system, countries that cooperate with China on internet development and participate in the World Internet Conference should be vigilant,” the document recommends, before adding: “When approaching the topic of internet co-governance and development strategies with China, countries should consider the future of cyberspace and what information should be shared, and even controlled, by countries such as China.” ®