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Reading Tea Leaves: China Statement on Internet Policy

The Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China has issued a statement on “Internet Policy in China.” Released Tuesday, the lengthy statement covers a range of topics from promoting internal development and use, to freedom of expression, protecting Internet security, and international cooperation.

A quick review reveals two interesting passages relevant to global Internet governance. First, concerning Internet security:

Effectively protecting Internet security is an important part of China’ s Internet administration, and an indispensable requirement for protecting state security and the public interest. The Chinese government believes that the Internet is an important infrastructure facility for the nation. Within Chinese territory the Internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty. The Internet sovereignty of China should be respected and protected.

I imagine you would be hard pressed to find any government which disagrees with the sovereignty principle expressed above, despite the fact that the Internet’s core infrastructure, applications (e.g., the DNS), and services operate transnationally. The position creates a fundamental tension (and threat to global Internet governance institutions) that governments everywhere are exacerbating by promoting securitization of the Internet.

Second, is language about international cooperation on critical Internet resources:

China holds that the role of the UN should be given full scope in international Internet administration. China supports the establishment of an authoritative and just international Internet administration organization under the UN system through democratic procedures on a worldwide scale. The fundamental resources of the Internet are vitally connected to the development and security of the Internet industry. China maintains that all countries have equal rights in participating in the administration of the fundamental international resources of the Internet, and a multilateral and transparent allocation system should be established on the basis of the current management mode, so as to allocate those resources in a rational way and to promote the balanced development of the global Internet industry.

The statement can simply be read that critical internet resources should be governed multilaterally within the paradigm of a nation-state based regime, namely the UN (although what agency is not specified). What is ambiguous, however, is the phrase “on the basis of the current management mode,” which could be a reference to the existing Internet governance institutions. If so, we’ll continue to see China tacitly support and engage the ICANN, IETF, and RIRs, but simultaneously push for their reform, particularly when it comes to their oversight and ensuring that processes lead to a “balanced development of the global Internet industry.” We should expect China to extract something for this acquiescence, i.e., look for Internet governance institutions engaging in work which supports China’s interests.

By Brenden Kuerbis, Internet Governance Researcher & Policy Analyst at Georgia Tech

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