If the vote is 154-0 on a measure relating to internet governance in favor of repression, we must be talking about China. The government that gave you the Great Firewall and recently the Great Cannon, is at it again this time passing a broad bill by a margin that would be hard to fathom in a true democracy.
With this law, the Chinese government strengthens its stranglehold on the internet to the detriment of human privacy rights. It is an extension of security measures enacted on Xi Jinping’s watch, as the Communist Party leader seeks to consolidate powers and forestall encroachment by freedom-loving activists.
To be fair, China is not immune from cyber threats. It is its reaction that is troublesome. Zheng, Shuna, a senior official at the National People’s Congress (NPC), admitted as much declaring that “China’s national security situation has become increasingly severe.” She may have been alluding to the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang, which has been the scene of recent riots and general unrest. In this regard, China is facing threats which are worrisome worldwide, including to the West. The pressure it is feeling has prompted the continuation of its crackdown on freedoms
Zheng was adamant about this when she boasted that China would “not leave any room for disputes, compromises or interference,” when protecting what it perceives to be its core interests. Hence the new law. But as always, the devil is in the detail, and as always in policy matters, China holds its cards close to the chest. Typically allowing much leeway for interpretation, the measure is broad in scope, but deficient in detail. Even the matter of sentencing is circumspect. But it aims to “protect people’s fundamental interests” (whatever that means), according to the state news agency.
Giving an indication of its broad scope, the law declares that these “interests” extend to both cyberspace and outer space – not to mention the oceans and polar regions- current areas of Chinese exploration. The language of the law contains the word “controllable” in referring to the Internet, which some foreign tech companies find disconcerting. The Internet, of course, is seen as a prime threat to the regime’s sovereignty, and therefore needs to be “managed”. And the law, Zheng claims will do just that – thwart the elements that are out there which seek to “undermine China’s cybersecurity.”
The law comes at a pivotal time for the country, which is under fire from the US for cyber interference. Every key country is scrambling to occupy the high ground in the battle, which is occurring in parallel to renewed territorial tussles with several countries in the South China Sea. It is suggested that winning the cyber war is a prerequisite, if not a precursor, to achieving victory in the territorial disputes.
While China is not alone in wanting to secure itself in the cyber skirmishes, it always seems to push the envelope when it comes to censorship, likening criticism to treason. As a result, the government can operate with impunity, without regard to individual privacy rights. It is a not-so-veiled reaction also to the uprising of the Uighur population, long a thorn in the side of the government. That the law does apply in Hong Kong is probably due to the grudging acknowledgement that the economy of the former British colony is thriving as a result of more freedoms there.