China’s Position on Global Digital Governance

Posted by Written by Giulia Interesse Reading Time: 5 minutes

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) recently released a paper on “China’s Positions on Global Digital Governance,” reaffirming its stance on data sovereignty and responsible technology practices. The Positions hold importance in ongoing discussions on digital governance and provide valuable insights into China’s approach to the internet and technology matters, emphasizing respect for sovereignty and proper data acquisition. This article summarizes the key principles, proposals, and implications for businesses.

On May 25, 2023, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) published a document titled Chinas Positions on Global Digital Governance (hereinafter referred to as “Positions”), an important contribution to the ongoing discourse on digital governance in the country.

Outlining China’s stance on crucial issues, such as data sovereignty, cybersecurity, and responsible technology practices, these Positions underscore the Chinese government’s call for respecting the sovereignty and jurisdiction of other states in the digital realm. The document aligns with China’s previous Global Initiative on Data Security, emphasizing the need for nations to obtain overseas data through proper channels and urging ICT providers to refrain from installing backdoors for unauthorized data access.

As global discussions on digital governance intensify, we highlight the main principles contained in China’s Positions on Global Digital Governance, concrete proposals, and key takeaways for enterprises doing business with or in China.

Basic principles

China emphasizes multilateralism, fairness, and cooperation to address the challenges and opportunities brought about by the digital revolution. The Positions document advocates for the improvement of global digital governance and the establishment of a shared future in cyberspace, which China conceives as built upon the following principles:

  • Uphold unity and cooperation: China calls for unity among nations and discourages division and confrontation in the digital realm. It emphasizes the importance of cooperation, inclusiveness, and the formulation of globally interoperable rules and standards based on mutual respect and broad consensus.
  • Focus on development: Digitalization brings about significant opportunities, particularly for developing countries. It encourages digital cooperation, bridging the digital divide, and building a global digital economy that is balanced, inclusive, and mutually beneficial.
  • Promote fairness and justice: Access to digital technologies and services is recognized as a legitimate right of all countries, especially developing ones. In this regard, China advocates for international cooperation, opposes technological monopolies and unilateral coercive measures, and seeks to ensure an equitable and effective global digital development that benefits all.
  • Facilitate effective governance: It is fundamental to address shared concerns in digital governance, such as cybersecurity, data security, and privacy. It calls for the formulation of international rules through broad participation and consultation, under the auspices of the United Nations. The Positions emphasize the need for a multilateral, democratic, and transparent international Internet governance system that ensures the equitable distribution and joint management of basic Internet resources.

The seven proposals

Through its Positions, China has put forth a comprehensive set of proposals to shape global digital governance, with the aim of fostering multilateral cooperation, fairness, and inclusivity. These proposals highlight the importance of connectivity, avoiding fragmentation, protecting data, upholding human rights, regulating artificial intelligence (AI), and promoting digital public goods. The key steps proposed are summarized below.

Connecting all people to the Internet

China places a strong emphasis on the importance of achieving fair and universal access to the Internet, fostering linguistic diversity, and enhancing digital connectivity. The Positions advocate for the equitable distribution of benefits arising from the Internet and digital technology advancements, emphasizing the need for inclusive participation by all nations.

In the first proposal, the government openly supports capacity-building efforts in developing countries and urges assistance in narrowing the digital divide, particularly among vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, women, minors, individuals with disabilities, and those facing financial constraints.

Avoiding Internet fragmentation

The second proposal is dedicated to avoiding Internet fragmentation; by doing so, China advocates for a cyberspace characterized by peace, security, openness, cooperation, and order, rejecting division and fragmentation. It calls for the formulation of globally interoperable rules and standards through multilateral cooperation under the United Nations auspices.

Indeed, the country emphasizes the importance of balancing development and security, promoting information infrastructure connectivity, and opposing the abuse of control tools that impede global ICT supply chains and hinder digital trade.

Protecting data

The Positions highlight China’s approach to data treatment and data security. The country firmly opposes the unauthorized collection of personal information, mass surveillance, and the installation of backdoors in ICT products. On the other end, as expressed in the document, it actively encourages collaborative endeavors to combat the illicit trade and exposure of personal and commercial data and emphasizes the need to raise awareness and foster self-discipline among businesses in safeguarding data protection.

This is in line with China’s stance as expressed in the Data Security Law, as well as other regulations regarding data treatment and cross-border data transfer.

Applying human rights online

In the Positions, digitalization is seen as a fundamental human right and as such, facilitating digital innovation, bridging the digital divide, and ensuring equitable sharing of digital development benefits, are key steps toward the development of all.

To do so, the Chinese government proposes the support of consistent, stable, and open digital products and services that cater to the needs of different groups and regions, while protecting individuals’ rights and freedoms in cyberspace.

An example of this can be found in the recent efforts to digitalize, innovate, and connect China’s Western provinces, which were traditionally left behind during the rapid expansion of the coastal Eastern regions.

Introducing accountability criteria for discrimination and misleading content

China aims to strike a balance between regulation and freedom of expression while combatting illicit online activities. This point is clearly expressed in the Positions, which advocate for appropriate measures to prevent illicit activities on the Internet, such as publishing information that endangers national security, incites violence and discrimination, spread rumors, or violates others’ rights and interests.

With this objective in mind, the government recently passed a new set of regulations regarding the management of algorithms, as a way to cultivate “positive energy” in cyberspace.

Promoting regulation of artificial intelligence (AI)

Through the proposals, China calls for the promotion of international AI governance standards and frameworks through dialogue and cooperation. It stresses the importance of safe, reliable, and controllable AI technology that prioritizes ethics and human-centered approaches.

China aims to establish review and regulation mechanisms for AI ethics, strengthen AI security, and improve data quality and fairness. It also prohibits the use of AI technologies in violation of laws, regulations, ethics, and standards.

Digital public goods

Lastly, the Chinese government openly recognizes the principle of national sovereignty in the cyber and digital domains. While respecting sovereignty and data security, it supports increasing the openness of digital products to unlock the potential of digital technologies and advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As such, China encourages the digitalization of public services, international cooperation in online education, and data sharing for SDG monitoring and evaluation to promote effective implementation.

Takeaways for commercial enterprise

China’s Positions highlight the importance of international cooperation, fairness, inclusivity, and respect for sovereignty in shaping global digital governance. These principles hold considerable implications for businesses operating in China’s digital realm (and beyond).

First and foremost, the effective implementation of these proposals necessitates close collaboration among nations, businesses, and civil organizations. As businesses engage in global digital operations, they will need to align their practices with the proposed framework to foster a harmonious and cooperative digital ecosystem. This entails embracing a shared responsibility to uphold the principles of fairness and inclusivity, ensuring that all stakeholders have equitable access to digital opportunities.

Furthermore, businesses play a pivotal role in driving the necessary investments in infrastructure, education, and innovation to bridge the digital divide. By actively investing in digital infrastructure and promoting digital literacy programs, they can contribute to reducing the disparities in access to technology across regions and demographics. This not only opens up new markets and growth opportunities but also fosters social and economic development worldwide.

Meanwhile, China’s repeated emphasis on respect for sovereignty in the Positions can be considered as a promise that China will not ask Chinese tech companies for overseas data without other States’ permission, according to analysis. This could be applied, for example, to the case of TikTok. The same logic may apply in the future to other tech giants.

All in all, as businesses navigate the evolving digital landscape, aligning their practices with these proposals becomes crucial. By investing in infrastructure, education, and innovation, prioritizing data protection and transparency, and embracing ethical considerations, businesses can actively contribute to the realization of a global digital ecosystem that upholds these principles and benefits all stakeholders involved. In doing this, they will be aligned with key government objectives.

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