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Digital Key: China and the US should use cyberspace as a medium for increasing trust and promoting cooperation

《中国日报》 2022-03-03

  Fifty years ago, the United States and Chinese leaders established the basic principles of mutual respect, seeking common ground while reserving differences for the normalization of China-US relations. Today, while revisiting the difficult journey of normalizing bilateral relations, the US and China should remember this guiding spirit and learn from the wisdom that enabled the establishment of diplomatic relations to overcome the security dilemma in cyberspace.

  The current competition between China and the US in cyberspace is mainly focused on the following three aspects.

  The US intends to maintain its absolute dominance in cyberspace, incorporate cybersecurity into its national security strategy, and strengthen its strategic competitiveness in cyberspace. In response to the US' effort at containment and suppression, China, on the one hand, is striving to maintain and fight for its own rights for development in cyberspace, and is implementing a national cyber strategy to that effect; on the other hand, it is committed to promoting the establishment of a fair, just and reasonable global cyberspace governance system.

  In order to pursue absolute superiority in information and communication technology, the US is pursuing technology decoupling as a policy to suppress the development of China's technology enterprises. The US has not only adopted unilateral sanctions against Chinese ICT companies, such as cutting off supplies and services, but also continuously pressured allied countries to take joint measures against Chinese ICT products and services through diplomatic and national security means. In addition, the US, guided by its aggressive techno-nationalism, is portraying China as a digital authoritarian to hide its true purpose of capturing huge monopoly benefits by virtue of its technological first-mover advantage. The competition between the US and China in cyberspace will gradually intensify division in the global technological ecology.

  During the Barack Obama administration, the US used internet freedom as a pretext for its efforts to strengthen the US' dominant position in information technology and manipulate global public opinion. It sought to control the global information flow and thus shape public opinion to reflect US ideology and values, and so influence the political values, national identity and behavior patterns of people in other countries, especially elites and youth. China firmly upholds the autonomy and security of cyberspace and actively promotes cyber sovereignty as the basis and prerequisite for international governance practices and cooperation in cyberspace. The debate between China and the US over order and freedom has become an important part of the political tug-of-war over cyberspace.

  Despite the intensification of the Sino-US competition in cyberspace, the key to mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation between the two cyber powers can be found in the ice-breaking journey 50 years ago and the subsequent promotion of the stable development of bilateral relations.

  First, the consensus between China and the US should be promoted based on the overall dynamics of the international landscape. Both countries should fully recognize the benefits and opportunities for cooperation between them in cyberspace. In the development of the bilateral relationship from confrontation to detente and even cooperation 50 years ago, the international pressure faced by both sides played a very big role. Now, the power gap between the US and China has fundamentally changed, but both sides still face common international pressures: the challenges of global governance issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change; and the new challenges posed by the economic recovery and cybersecurity that are tests of their domestic governance capabilities.

  A secure, stable and unified cyberspace is important for the long-term development of both countries. The US and China have complementary advantages in the digital economy, with the US having strong innovation capabilities and clear advantages in key technology areas, while China has a huge consumer market and strong manufacturing capabilities. Cybersecurity issues are prominent in the digital era, and cooperation between the US and China is indispensable in many areas such as facilitating cross-border data flows and strengthening internet platform governance, as well as the fight against cyber-terrorism and other digital development issues.

  Second, the US and China need to fully learn from the lessons of the Cold War and actively engage in exchanges. When diplomatic relations were established, the leaders of both countries realized that peaceful coexistence between capitalism and communism is essential for both. Today, the academic and political circles are filled with the argument of a zero-sum game between the US and China. The US and China should get rid of the influence of geopolitical games and ideological confrontation, and strive for more consensus and cooperation to avoid the international landscape from falling into ideological blocs and polarization again.

  Finally, China and the US should seize the historical opportunity to take a diversified approach to increase trust and explain doubts, so as to lay a good foundation for Sino-US cooperation. Because cyberspace is inseparable from the political, economic and cultural life of human beings today, the US and China can set up multilevel and multidisciplinary dialogue and exchange mechanisms, especially in the areas of civil diplomacy, think tank diplomacy and cultural and sports diplomacy. The two countries should fully explore the opportunities for cooperation and use cyberspace as a medium to promote the bilateral process of increasing trust and easing doubts.

  (The author is a professor of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University.)