Chinese cyberspace affairs and foreign ministry officials drew a red line in the sand around the country’s internet during a speech from Beijing Thursday.
A recently published, government-authored public policy paper — intended for an international audience — outlines the country’s position on internet sovereignty and cyber defenses, including an opinion that hacks into Chinese companies may in some cases warrant a kinetic, military response.
The news comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly discussed the possibility of leveraging import tariffs on Chinese goods.
According to China Daily, deputy director-general of the Bureau of International Cooperation of the Cyberspace Administration Wang Jianchao told reporters, “just like the real world, cyberspace needs not only the advocacy of freedom, but also the assurance of order.”
“The Chinese Communist Party has long welcomed the economic prospects of a digitally-connected economy, but it has also worried about the effects of Western media and influence,” explained Harvard University scholar Ben Buchanan. “This statement distills their view that a nation’s sovereignty gives it the right to control what happens on the internet within its borders — a view not in line with the American position, which favors greater openness.”
While the speech and policy paper do little to expand on China’s longstanding approach to internet censorship, business regulation and data privacy laws, the specific mention of a kinetic response is relatively notable, explained Adam Segal, director of digital and cyberspace policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“The U.S. has in the past signaled how they would respond to an attack and now China is doing the same,” said Segal, “it makes sense.”
In November, Beijing approved the passage of tough, new business regulations, which require software companies, internet hardware makers and other tech firms doing business in China to disclosure their proprietary source code to the government. The rules also call for increased cooperation with domestic law enforcement agencies.
These regulations will officially go into effect in June. Several major American technology brands, including Microsoft, Intel and IBM, have spoken out against the impending legislation as it would “hurt technological innovation and decrease the security level of products,” according to a statement written by Intel.
“Cyberattacks, cyber espionage, [and digital] surveillance have become major issues confronting all countries,” said Long Zhou, a coordinator for the foreign ministry’s cyber affairs division, according to the Associated Press.
China, Zhou said, is looking to partner with Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and other nations, to formulate agreeable international law to guide activity in cyberspace.