The end of Webgemony?

By Fang Xingdong
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 24, 2013
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With the number of Internet users now approaching 2.5 billion, meaning that one-third of the world population is now online, there is no doubt that we are on the cusp of a global cyber society.

Taking liberties [By Gou Ben/]

The main difference between the "real" world and the cyber world, however, is that there are very few rules and laws governing behavior and actions in cyberspace. We have seen this cause problems and some fierce clashes, perhaps the most recent and notable example being the verbal sparring between China and the U.S. over hacking and the revelations made by Edward Snowden.

The U.S. has managed to dominate public opinion by taking advantage of the extreme complexity of cyber security and the vagueness of its rules. So what's the real nature of the cyber world? I feel that there are three worlds and three main campaigns in cyberspace; and there are two kinds of competitors with two different strategies.

The Internet, like the real world, can be divided into three worlds: Internet colonial nations, Internet sovereign nations and Internet hegemonic nations. Judging from the Internet's infrastructure, industrial competitiveness and cyber warfare capability, the U.S. is the only Internet hegemonic nation. China, Russia, India, Japan, Australia, Korea and European countries such as the U.K. and Germany have the capability of controlling their own Internet. They are Internet sovereign nations. Numerous countries, confined by their limited economic strength, are unable to manage their Internet effectively, thus falling into the category of Internet colonial nations.

Countries are naturally paying more attention to their cyberspace strategy as the Internet becomes increasingly important in the modern world. There are two types of cyberspace strategies: One is aggressive and the other is defensive. Currently, the U.S. is the only country that has the ability to organize an aggressive cyberspace strategy. Russia and China can only implement defensive strategies.

It seems strange, in light of the fact that the U.S. is the only country with an aggressive cyberspace strategy, that China is perceived as the aggressor when the issue of hacking attacks are raised between China and the U.S. By contrast, the U.S. is often perceived as the passive, innocent party. The reason for such an impression is that the cyber security war has three tiers. The first is the battle for public opinion; the second is the battle for the Internet infrastructure market; the third is the information battle between countries.

The battle for public opinion

The battle for public opinion refers to the struggle to win the support of the public in light of news events. The U.S. takes advantage of its media dominance to portrait China as the promoter of cyber warfare. It argues that attacks made from Chinese IP address have been initiated by Chinese hackers acting with the support of the Chinese government. Based on this fallacious argument, the U.S. government misleads the public and increases spending on cyber security.

The battle for Internet infrastructure market

The core infrastructure of the global Internet, such as the root server and root DNS server, are all located in the U.S. and under the control of the U.S. government. The main global suppliers of the Internet infrastructure are principally U.S. companies such as CISCO, Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Google. No country would dare to risk its own destruction by initiating a cyber attack on the U.S.

Information battle between countries

The U.S. has attached great importance to the information battle and is the first country to finish its top-level design. Its cyber security strategy is under the direct guidance of the U.S. president. Such an integrated cyberspace security strategy has further strengthened America's dominant position in the Internet era. Other major powers, including China, have no such top-down design.

In the long run, China will emerge as a major player in cyberspace and its emergence will threaten the cyber hegemony of the U.S. In the shorter-term, over the next five to ten years, China's main task is to establish its defensive cyber security strategy and map out a top-level design that matches its development potential. In the meantime, it should ensure the steady development of its Internet infrastructure market and be savvier in the fight to influence public opinion.

The author is dean of Internet and Society Research Center, Zhejiang University of Media and Communications.

This article was translated by Li Huiru. Its original unabridged version was published in Chinese.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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