WIC: balance between commerce and security

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, November 18, 2016
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This week, the small town of Wuzhen, in northern Zhejiang Province, has been attracting disproportionate global interest. However, its citizens are beginning to get accustomed to this.

For the third year running, Wuzhen has played host to a World Internet Conference (WIC), a Chinese initiative from 2014 to promote mutually beneficial e-commerce and to work towards international consensus on information management. The process has involved some of the world's largest internet companies, as well as Chinese experts and officials.

The 2016 agenda was prefigured by last year's meeting, attended by President Xi Jinping and the prime ministers of Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The Chinese view, as expressed in a speech by President Xi, was that China fully supported the rapid growth of information transfer and e-commerce.

This obviously fits into the wider Belt and Road (B&R) programs to expand the commercial infrastructure (a forum was held at this year's conference to demonstrate the opportunities for countries to improve their network infrastructure with Chinese investment linked to the B&R programs).

A "Wuzhen Initiative" was launched, calling on all countries to promote the cultural diversity of expanded cyberspace, share equitably the fruits of Internet development, ensure cyberspace peace and security, and improve global Internet governance, while recognizing and respecting each country's "Internet sovereignty" and right to choose its own development path and management model.

President Xi again addressed the conference, although this time by video link as he was already en route to Latin America. His main themes continued the themes of the previous conference: "The development of the internet knows no international boundaries. Its sound use, development and governance thus call for closer cooperation." However, the need to respect "cyber sovereignty" was reiterated.

The main point at issue is how to manage a phenomenon transcending international boundaries while ensuring each country can operate its own system of information management. China offers to take the lead in solving this apparent conundrum.

In addition to Xi's speech, Politburo Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan expressed a willingness to step up China's role in global Internet governance, and to work at rectifying "imbalances" in the way information management standards are set.

Here, China appeals to a sentiment widely shared throughout the world. The unlimited flow of information across cyberspace clearly conveys huge advantages in terms of commerce, as well as in promoting mutual understanding; yet, open windows do not only mean fresh air can circulate, but insects and other undesirable elements can also enter.

It is not surprising that every government should have its own view on how to manage information flows to ensure that material considered damaging to the national interests, even detrimental to national security, is kept out. And it is also not surprising that some countries should prefer a liberal approach, whereas others are more conservative.

Xi's call for "equitable global internet governance" recognizes that various countries will have different approaches, requiring mutual respect and discussion of these matters on an equal basis. For this reason, China hopes to broaden the basis of participation at future meetings in Wuzhen. There is already no problem in attracting the attention of the large technology companies who wish to ensure a solid and sustainable basis for their future business in China.

One concern raised by some foreign companies operating in China referred to the new Cyber Security Law passed by the National People's Congress on Nov. 7, 2016. This law sets out China's security requirements for "network operators" and "critical information infrastructure operators."

Not unnaturally, international companies were keen to know how their own operations in China might be affected. Chinese officials were at pains to stress the law is meant to cover security threats in "critical"industries, and not to interfere with the workings of legitimate foreign businesses.

Thus, it is recognized that there will always be a balance to be struck between the interests of e-commerce and cybersecurity. China is as aware of this as any other country. Given that this issue is certain to come up again in some form, China's initiative in bringing it to the world's attention at an early stage must be welcomed, especially as this is an area in which technological development is extremely rapid.

It will be interesting to watch the progress of international cooperation within the annual Wuzhen Conference format, and to observe how attempts to strike this necessary balance progress. Above all, it will be interesting to see whether participation in the process can be expanded.

Tim Collard is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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