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Will China cyber superpower?

PRC persistently clears the way to managing network resources

Will China cyber superpower?
Photo: photosklad.net

Alexander Isayev

Leading researcher, Deputy Head of the Center for the Study and Forecasting of Russian-Chinese Relations, IFES RAS
In the picturesque eastern Chinese town of Wuzhen 5 December, the fourth World Internet Conference on Internet Governance was completed. In it, as the Chinese organizers of the forum reported, more than 1,5 thousand Chinese and foreign experts, representatives of government structures, international organizations, research centers, more than 430 companies took part. Russia was represented at the conference by the head of Roskomnadzor Alexander Zharov, the head of Kaspersky Lab Evgeny Kaspersky, executive director of the League for Secure Internet Denis Davydov.

And although this annual forum has a "world-wide" prefix, it is being organized by the Chinese side, and for the fourth year in a row it has traditionally been held in Zhejiang Province. The purpose of the forum is to work out rules for joint management of cyberspace acceptable for China and other countries, to determine the principles of state regulation of national segments of the Internet, to solve numerous problems with ensuring cybersecurity, lowering the level of cybercriminals, ensuring safe conditions for conducting Internet commerce, banking operations, and trying to solve other numerous the functioning of a new environment for humanity.

The rapid development of information and communication technologies (ICT), the expansion of their application space, the emergence of new tools, technical means of information transfer and maintenance of network resources have become the main components of the modern technological breakthrough. But the same jerk has pulled a huge number of problems that have been trying to solve various countries for almost thirty years. And one of these problems is the problem of Internet governance.

Twenty years ago, China could hardly claim one of the leading roles in the management of the information space. Today everything has changed. China can already be considered a regional internet superpower. The number of users of the World Wide Web in modern China has reached 740 million, and this is not the limit. With the advent of mobile communication systems, the possibilities of social networks have expanded, which are used for exchanging multimedia information, distributing text, photo and video information, for accessing various types of financial, trade and other services. In December 2017, the number of active users of the Chinese messenger WeChat (Weixin) exceeded 1 billion.More than 600 million Chinese citizens use WeChatpay daily to pay for goods and services.

China is the leader in the production of personal computers, various tablet devices, multifunctional smartphones. Active development in the field of "Internet of things", "smart cities" is being carried out. Several centers for countering cyber threats have been created. The production of its own network equipment has been set up, the world's fastest computer has been built. E-commerce has become a priority, the program for the formation of the digital economy has been consistently being implemented. The Chinese are working to create digital military technologies. 

In parallel with the development of the production base and services, Beijing is forming the legal framework for managing the national segment of the Internet. By March 2016, the PRC had adopted 41 laws, 46 administrative legal acts of the State Council of the PRC, 37 clarifications on judicial practice, 274 regulations of the government apparatus, 133 local regulations, 138 local regulations, a total of 669 documents that regulate behavior in information country field.

For 17 years, China has formed a comprehensive, multifunctional cybersphere management system, which has a powerful staffing and technical capabilities. It includes not only the Ministry of Industry and Informatization, the largest Chinese IT companies. Formed a special government agency responsible for the development and implementation of policies in cyberspace - the Administration for Cyberspace Affairs of the PRC. Most often, this institution is actively working and under the direct patronage of the leader of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping, is simplified to associate with the department that performs censorship and prohibition functions, blocks harmful websites and filters unwanted information.  

In practice, it is a very serious agency that is responsible for implementing state policy in cyberspace, analyzing the situation in the network, implementing programs to ensure security in the digital environment. The department includes 9 departments responsible for analyzing the state of the information space, coordinating work to ensure information security, international cooperation, controlling mobile Internet, disseminating online news, and so on. The structure also includes three Centers that deal with the response to cyberthreats, research work, collection and processing of public statements about the distribution of malicious information in the network.

All this suggests that China today is the largest cyberpower in East Asia, with serious industrial, technological, scientific and other capabilities in the field of ICT, with a powerful potential to control cyberspace.

By the way, at the same fourth World Conference on Internet Governance in Wuzheng, with which we began this story, a report on the development of network resources in the world was presented, as well as an index of global Internet development developed by Chinese analysts. The index includes 38 countries of the world that hold leading positions in the development of the digital space. The index took into account such indicators as infrastructure development, innovation potential, general industry development, the use of Internet applications, cybersecurity and Internet governance. According to the conclusions of Chinese analysts, the first three places are shared by the United States, China and the Republic of Korea. Russia, according to experts from the Middle Kingdom, is in 18th place, somewhere between Denmark and Italy.

In other words, until recently China, which modestly kept in digital shadow, now claims that it has outgrown the status of the strongest regional Internet power and moves to a new level of the global cyber superpower.

This claim is supported by China's International Cyberspace Cooperation Strategy, released on March 1, 2017. In this "Strategy", for the first time in the PRC, the concept of "sovereignty in cyberspace" is introduced, which is interpreted as the fundamental principle of "protecting national sovereignty in cyberspace." It declares the right of each country to choose the path of development of sovereign cyberspace and declares the inadmissibility of the cyber hegemony of the hegemony of a single country, the concept of “sovereignty of cyberspace”. The same document for the first time applies the concept of "joint management of international cyberspace, on the basis of equality and mutual benefit."
Thus, China is already ready to talk on equal terms with the main centers of digital governance and come to grips with the problem of Internet governance on a global scale.

The modern Internet is a transnational phenomenon. Its operation, most of the infrastructure and management are provided not by states, but by private companies, including not only software developers and manufacturers of network equipment, but also large financiers and scientists. Of course, the role of the state in regulating activities in the network is increasing, and correlates with such problems as streamlining the activities of national segments of the "web", ensuring information security, and forming a legal platform for the Internet. But at the same time, it is worth recalling that, despite the fact that there is no single cyberspace control center, the key positions in this area are occupied by the United States due to the fact that it is here that network operating standards are developed and implemented, new services are created, and basic network hardware. In addition, it is the United States that is the key point where all the threads of the World Wide Web flock, and from where these threads are often pulled.

The exacerbated discussions between China and the United States on mutual cyber threats are only a manifestation of the real situation when two queens on a chessboard begin to argue. But they not only argue, but also try to negotiate during meetings of the working group on information security within the framework of the US-China strategic dialogue. 
Accusations against China of hacker attacks on critical infrastructure facilities for the United States are just an excuse to put pressure on Beijing. Because the Americans are doing the same all over the world, including with regard to their own allies. There are no patrons of art in cyberspace, here everyone is for himself. And the point is not even that some advanced Chinese high school student or student illegally entered the Pentagon's information network and planted the state flag in the PRC on the home page of the US Department of Defense's public website. 

For Americans, a headache is the speed with which China is closing the gap between the emergence of the latest ICT developments in the world and the start of its industrial production in the PRC. The gap between the appearance of the first PS and the beginning of their production in China was just over 10 years. The gap between the appearance of the Apple iPhone and the first Chinese smartphone close to it in terms of parameters was 1,5-2 years. Moreover, today smartphones Huawei, Xiaomi have become very worthy competitors to the famous product of Apple.

A similar trend is observed in the development and commercialization of more sophisticated network equipment, including the most sophisticated technologies for repelling cyber threats. The quality of Chinese products is still lagging behind European or American ones. But this circumstance is not an obstacle to moving forward. In other words, today a situation has arisen in which the monopoly of US companies and their allies in the production of network components, as well as in the field of governance and control over the Internet, is being seriously tested.

So far, the principle "who controls cyberspace controls the world" works for America and its allies, but it is already clear that a new player has invaded this area. And here he does not behave like a bear in a china shop, but rather like a level-headed panda, comfortable in digital bamboo thickets. And it is quite clear that the world is on the verge of meeting a new cyber superpower.
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