China: the country with the biggest number of active internet users, and with the largest amount of content blocked by the infamous Great Firewall. However, this rather questionable policy didn’t stop China from trying to warn the world that cyberspace can become the place where the next “cold war” will be fought. A freshly released document stated the importance of increasing the international cooperation towards a better common cyberspace and of empowering cyber security systems not just in China, but all over the world.
With this in mind, we’re left with two big questions. Will we witness the cooperation between the eastern country and the U.S. now that the Trump administration is also trying to figure out how to strengthen its grip precisely on cyberspace? Or will cyberspace become a matter of great tension between the two nations, now that President Trump is committed to accentuate the America’s role as the world police?
The International Strategy of Cooperation on Cyberspace
The document’s name, International Strategy of Cooperation on Cyberspace, speaks for itself. To achieve said cooperation, in December 2016 China’s main security official informed Washington that Beijing is willing to work with the new American administration on cyber security. Until now, Donald Trump still didn’t sign any executive orders addressing this concern, which led China to decide to pay close attention to the whole American review of the country’s cyber security defenses.
Fearing the situation could turn into a true cold war-like arms race in cyberspace, in its report China stresses the fact that no nation should be allowed to become the world’s cyberspace regulator. To China it is vital to prevent the cyberspace from inevitably becoming a new battlefield, hence why Beijing is so focused on taking preventive measures by starting an open up dialogue with other nations. In fact, one of China’s main suggestions is that countries must reject the cold war mentality in the cyberspace and instead combine their efforts towards a peaceful digital coexistence. Each country should take care of its own digital security through common standards while also fully respecting standards applied by other countries. Another suggestion for countries is to not interfere in other states’ internal affairs or to not conduct any cyber activities that may undermine the national security of other nations.
Is China Really Opening up?
Despite how important and noble this document is from a world security point of view, it still seems rather odd that such efforts towards an open dialogue between countries come from China, a country known for anything but internet freedom. In fact, according to Freedom House, China is actually the most repressive country regarding online activities. The government restricts access to the big majority of the internet and new censorship laws are approved almost on a daily basis. Furthermore, quite recently the country declared war against VPN companies, which for a long time provided Chinese citizens the feeling of being free while going online.
So with all of the above in mind, the question is: could this document about cyberspace, that is already quite surprising from an oppressing country, truly become the first crack on the Great Firewall?