China has risen as a key player in the digital domain. And it uses its influence to promote digital authoritarianism, which presents security, privacy, and human rights concerns for the free world. China is working to undermine our democratic institutions and values in the free world. Those are the harsh allegations from a US Senate report ‘The New Big Brother – China and Digital Authoritarianism’ from July 21 20202. The so-called Democratic staff report is thereby echoing president Trump’s conflict escalation style towards China.
China is on the road to executing a long-term plan to dominate the digital space not only over Chinese but the world. The US, who is still the dominant Internet power, is feeling increasingly threatened by China’s digital powers and there is a reason, according to the report:
China has the largest number of Internet users on the planet, with more than 800 million Chinese citizens connected to some form of Internet. Chinese technology companies such as Huawei and ZTE are at the forefront of developing and implementing fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications infrastructure. Chinese patent publications have surged in emerging technology fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and deep learning. And China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) contains an effort “to create a ‘digital Silk Road’ that will allow it to shape the future of the global Internet.
The examples from the report are many, and so are the details about e.g. Huawei as the biggest US enemy, who is sitting on the majority of infrastructure in Africa, and due to government subsidies were able to underbid Swedish Ericsson when wanting to provide network equipment for the Dutch national 5G network.
“China’s export and infrastructure efforts around the globe represent an economic concern for the United States. However, China’s export of digital technology in and of itself is not the key issue, as it is only the groundwork upon which digital authoritarianism can flourish. What really advances this censorship and surveillance system is China providing countries with social control systems that run on exported digital technologies, including relevant training and expertise,” says the report and list examples:
- The Chinese startup CloudWalk is partnering with the Zimbabwean government on a mass facial recognition program in Zimbabwe
- Huawei is advising Kenya on its information and communication technology (ICT) Master Plan and Vision 2030
- In Mauritius, Huawei is installing 4,000 cameras
- Zambia is spending $1 billion on Chinese-made telecommunications, broadcasting, and surveillance technology
- Chinese start-up Yitu bid for a contract for facial recognition cameras in Singapore and opened its first international office in Singapore in January 2019
The report recommends that the US develop and deploy alternatives to Chinese 5G technology. It does not recommend using e.g. Ericsson from an allied country of Sweden, but that the US itself creates an American 5G telecommunications alternative.
It also recommends that the spread of Chinese surveillance technologies are limited, and a Digital Rights Promotion Fund is established. That the US is strengthening its digital workforce to better at competing, and finally that US diplomatic alliances are reinvigoated, as
“China has made a concerted effort to change norms and practices to strengthen its position in various international fora regarding the digital domain,”
The report is thus very aligned with president Trump’s withdrawal from WHO and his general conflict escalating style towards China.