Over the next few days, Net Politics will countdown the top five developments in cyber policy of 2014. Each policy event will have its own post, explaining what happened, what it all means, and its impact on cyber policy in 2015. In this post, China’s great leap forward in cyber policy making.
2014 was a year of major progress on the cyber policy front for China. Beijing reorganized and revitalized its policy making institutions at home, and it moved to shape the international agenda on the norms of behavior for cyberspace.
In February, China announced the formation of new leading small group on network security and informatization, with Xi Jinping as its head. The creation of the group was important for at least three reasons. First, it was a signal of the growing importance of cyber to China’s strategic, political, economic, diplomatic, and military interests. Or in the phrasing of President Xi, "No information security means no national security, no informatization means no modernization." Second, it was an effort to bring greater coherence and coordination to cyber policy making. Five different ministries and bureaus—the Ministry of Public Security, State Encryption Bureau, State Secrets Bureau, Ministry of State Security, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology—plus the People’s Liberation Army have a say in cybersecurity policy. The new group should be able to define priorities and resolve internal conflicts. Third, it was part of Xi’s efforts to consolidate power in his own hands. In addition to the network security group, Xi has established and leads a Central Leading Group for Overall Reform and a new national security commission.
In November, China hosted the World Internet Conference. The conference was not free of mistakes; there was, for example, a rather ham-handed effort to slip a final declaration under the doors of the delegates after midnight right before the conference closed. Yet the meeting in Wuzhen was a clear signal that China intends to take a more active role in defining the agenda for Internet governance. In particular, Beijing has stressed the norm of Internet sovereignty, the idea that every state has the right to make rules and regulations covering cyberspace, and that right should be recognized internationally. In other words, the global Internet should be subject to local controls.
This confidence and assertiveness were also on display when Lu Wei, head of China’s Cyberspace Administration, visited the United States just a few weeks after the conference ended. Lu spoke in Washington, but the highlight, at least for the Chinese press, was his visit to the West Coast. Lu rode in a driverless car at Google, met with Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Tim Cook of Apple, and visited Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg told him he had read and shared copies of Xi Jinping’s book, The Governance of China.
It remains to be seen whether China can convert these aspirations into realities in 2015. At home, it will have to move quickly to improve domestic cybersecurity. On the international stage, it will have to convert its new found activism into concrete policy recommendations. Still, the objective is clear: China intends on become a strong cyber power.