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Final Stop: Beijing

by Adam Segal
March 22, 2010

Another type of advanced technology

I spent the last six days of my two-week trip to Asia in Beijing.  Much of the time was spent discussing the high profile technology issues that are currently defining Sino-U.S. relations–Google and internet freedom; technology transfer and dual-use technology export controls; and indigenous innovation. And one evening was spent on a less well-known application of high technology that goes very well with Yunnan dishes.

As with the reports from Korea and Japan, here are some assorted thoughts:

Google+U.S. Government=Best Friends Forever: While no one came out and called Google a pawn of the government, none of the Chinese think tank analysts I spoke with thought the timing of Secretary Clinton’s Internet Freedom speech, made just days after Google’s announcement that it had been hacked, was coincidental.  Some framed it as Google “capturing” U.S. foreign policy, but others thought it reflected the failure and breakdown of Obama’s China policy.  High-level, comprehensive, and global cooperation had failed–there will be no G-2–and so instead Washington was looking for a new, more confrontational approach to China, one that has competition over technology at its core.

China in Defensive Crouch: Besides itself being the victim of multiple cyber attacks, China, it was clear to several Beijing-based analysts, was the weaker of the cyber powers.  The United States sees the Internet as a global commons to be regulated and defended; English is the dominant language of the web; and all the leading Internet hardware and software companies are American.

For Future Consideration: An arms control treaty on cyber weapons seems to have little attraction to Beijing, but some suggested that China was studying the provisions and responsibilities of the Council of Europe’s Cybercrime Convention.  If so, that’s good news, but we shouldn’t expect any sudden breakthroughs.  China usually doesn’t jump into new treaties or international regimes without many years of study and research.

Rough Going: Two larger trends in Chinese society–the declining importance of the foreign policy elite in decision making and the reworking of the relationship between civil society and state–will make it even more difficult to forge any agreements about the rules of the road for cyberconflict and cybersecurity.  There are now more voices clamoring for attention in the Chinese polity, and the state pays more attention to them. Many are highly nationalistic with little appetite for deliberation or compromise.

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