China’s UN envoy calls for equality in shaping cyberspace norms

·4-min read

China’s ambassador to the United Nations has called for equality in forming international norms for cyberspace, free from interference in countries’ internal affairs, amid its rivalry with the US over governance of the digital sphere.

Zhang Jun, China’s envoy, said at a UN Security Council meeting that all nations should uphold multilateralism and establish an open cybersecurity governance mechanism.

The mechanism should be accepted by all countries without influence from “small circles and group politics”, he said at the meeting on Tuesday.

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“We should promote security through the maintenance of peace and prevent cyberspace from becoming a new battlefield,” he said.

Zhang said that “the principles of sovereign equality, prohibition of the use of force, non-interference in internal affairs and peaceful settlement of disputes” should be respected.

“It is essential to respect the rights of all countries to independently choose the path of internet development and internet management model, and to participate in the governance of cyberspace on an equal footing,” Zhang said.

Technological hegemony should be opposed, Zhang said, arguing that countries should adopt more “coordinated” and “inclusive” policies to promote the balanced development of information and communication technologies globally.

China and the United States have accused each other of launching cyberattacks, while the US has banned investment in Chinese technology firms.

US President Joe Biden has called for the United States to work with European allies to advance international norms in cyberspace.

“We must shape the rules that will govern the advance of technology and the norms of behaviour in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, so that they are used to lift people, not used to pin them down,” Biden said at the 2021 Munich Security Conference in February.

The Insikt Group, a research team of US-based cybersecurity company Recorded Future, said in a recent report that “a suspected Chinese state-sponsored threat activity group RedFoxtrot”, which had launched a series of cyber threats targeting Central Asian and South Asian countries since 2014, was linked to China’s People’s Liberation Army through its unit 69010, located in Xinjiang.

In March, China referred to the US as the “champion” of cyberattacks, and called on the international community to jointly expose and resist US cyberbullying practices.

The US remains the pre-eminent cyber power and is likely to retain that position until at least 2030, according to a report by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), released on Monday. The report said China was one of seven countries in the next tier and was the best placed to join the top level, given its growing industrial base in digital technology.

The IISS assessed 15 countries’ cyber power based on seven indicators, including core intelligence capabilities, leadership in global cyberspace affairs, security and offensive capabilities, and found that the US had “world-leading strengths” in all aspects.

Although China had made significant progress since 2014 in bolstering its cyber capabilities, it had been “nowhere near enough to close the gap” with the US, said Greg Austin, the lead author of the report.

China’s internet censorship goes far beyond the Great Firewall

The IISS report said China was pushing for reform of international institutions such as the UN Internet Governance Forum, and saw UN rule-making in cyberspace as embodying a state-led approach to cyber governance that it favoured, rather than relatively unrestricted information flow.

Nato leaders have declared that China presents systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and called on Beijing to uphold its international commitments by acting “responsibly”, including in cyberspace, in keeping with its role as a major power.

Member nations see China as a major threat in cyberspace, along with Russia. A Nato communique two weeks ago accused Russia of carrying out “malicious cyber activities”.

China is accelerating development of its digital economy, which in 2019 was valued at 35.8 trillion yuan (US$5.5 trillion), accounting for 36 per cent of its GDP.

The country’s five-year plan states that it will “promote international exchanges and cooperation in cyberspace, and promote the formulation of international rules for digital and cyberspace with the United Nations as the main channel and the UN Charter as the basic principles”.

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