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Rules of the Road

by Adam Segal
June 8, 2010

China’s Information Office of the State Council just released its White Paper “The Internet in China.”

Photo courtesy of flickr/pmorgan

There’s not a great deal that’s new or surprising in the paper, which is divided into six chapters. The Chinese lay out the economic rationale for Internet development.  Not only has China developed an increasingly competitive information technology sector, but the Internet is an important platform for the transformation of more traditional industries, e-commerce, on-line game, and digital culture.  The Internet improves governance by providing policy makers access to information as well as “supervision,” which is a euphemism for Chinese bloggers exposing official corruption and malfeasance.  Chinese citizens enjoy full freedom of speech on the Internet, though, and this is of course the kicker–exercise of those rights must not “jeopardize state security, the public interest or the legitimate rights and interests of other people.” In addition, China faces severe Internet security threats, with rates of attack as well as online theft and fraud all rising.

Still, there has been some interesting noise on this side of the Pacific about international cybersecurity discussions. In response to a question about the Russian proposal for an arms control agreement, General Keith Alexander , head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, suggested that the administration should pursue some type of international talks about cooperation in cyberspace:

“I think the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the administration would take those, carefully consider those and say: Now, what’s the counterproposal from the United States, from China, from Russia, from Europe, from the Middle East? How do we put that on the table? And I think we do have to establish that in the lanes of the road.”

Also, on her return from a trip to Shanghai, Senator Dianne Feinstein told the Wall Street Journal that she raised cybersecurity, and that “I mentioned that I believe there needs to be an agreement between those major nations that are involved. That’s China, that’s Russia, the United States, it’s Israel and many other nations.”

The White Paper hints both that China would be open to such discussions and some of the problems such discussions might encounter: “National situations and cultural traditions differ among countries, and so concern about Internet security also differs. . . We should seek common ground and reserve differences, promote development through exchanges, and jointly protect international Internet security.”  We can guess what the different concerns would be–U.S. support for activists and free speech proponents, for example–but maybe we will start seeing some progress in some more abstract areas such as defining the rules of conflict and appropriate targets.

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