Unveiling "Wangluo Qiangguo": People-Centered Approach or Global Menace?

Prashant Rathor, PhD Scholar (JNU)
Prashant Rathor, PhD Scholar (JNU)
Intern (Cyber Diplomacy and International Relations Wing) CyberPeace
PUBLISHED ON
Jun 8, 2024
10

The Op-ed emphasises the importance of understanding Xi Jinping’s “Wangluo Qiangguo” concept from the Chinese viewpoint. While the West often negatively portrays " Wangluo Qiangguo, " China aims to establish cyber hegemony and bolster offensive cyber capabilities for cyber espionage and surveillance. 

Origin and Translation of a Wangluo Qiangguo

Xi Jinping headed the first meeting of the new Central Leading Group for Cybersecurity and Informatization in 2014, the term 网络强国 (wǎngluò qiángguó) became eminent during this meeting. Subsequently, the phrase has become a cohesive slogan for discussing various national and local cyberspace and digital technology policies. The concept and its associated strategic thinking that unifies multiple ideas and initiatives are widely credited to Xi, who was mentioned in his landmark speech on April 19, 2016, at the Work Conference for Cybersecurity and Informatization. “Wangluo Qiangguo” is a Chinese phrase that can be translated as “cyber superpower” or  “ developing China into a national force in cyberspace.”

Western Perspective   

In its annual report, the USA --China Economic and Security Review Commission mentioned that the Chinese “cyber superpower” view encompasses a political slogan and a unifying strategic concept linking cyber initiatives across sectors.  Xi cited cyber superpowers as a political slogan describing attaining parity with major powers like the United States regarding cyber capacity and influence on global internet governance. Morever, The New America Foundation. Researchers mentioned assessing the highly ambitious plans attached to the Chinese government and Communist Party for development in cyberspace fields.” Cyber superpower is also a unifying strategic concept that encapsulates specific initiatives and plans related to domestic information control, indigenous innovation in core technologies, national security, the digital economy, and China’s influence in global cyber governance. 

The phrase is featured in high-level policy documents such as China’s 14th Five-Year Plan. It has been incorporated into regulatory processes at the Party, provincial, ministerial, and municipal levels of government. This is how Western countries depict China's cyber superpower concept. Furthermore, this report discusses the ramifications for the USA after China gained the cyber super-power status. It threatens American society, critical information infrastructure, and military operations in peacetime and adverse circumstances. The growing capabilities of the Strategic Support Force (SSF) are also a grave concern because they disseminate false information that creates havoc in public institutions and at the societal level. 

Additionally, the unclassified 2021 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence describes China as a sophisticated cyber adversary, principally in the terrain of cyber espionage. Intelligence professionals continue to assess that China can launch cyber-attacks that will lead to temporary disruptions to critical infrastructure in the United States. China is increasing domestic internet control to ensure ideological control for authoritarian longevity and the proliferation of technology-driven authoritarianism worldwide.

An essential aspect of China's cyber superpower status involves diminishing reliance on foreign technology while bolstering dependence on domestically developed foundational technology. This is accomplished by using Chinese state-affiliated hackers to pursue strategic objectives in technological innovation, gather intelligence for mergers and acquisitions, and acquire critical technologies. China has taken proactive measures such as relocating data service centres from overseas to China, partnering with local companies, and regulating cross-border data transfers. This is exemplified by the expansion of data centres from 30,000 server racks in 2020 to 720,000 by 2025 in the northwestern Ningxia province, becoming a significant challenge for foreign firms in terms of cost and trust deficit.

Chinese Perspective

During his address at the Work Conference for Cybersecurity and Informatization, Xi Jinping emphasised four critical domains in which China aims to enhance its capabilities and governance capacity: managing online content to promote "positive energy," ensuring general cybersecurity, including safeguarding critical information infrastructure; constructing an independent, domestic technological base for the software and hardware that undergird of the Internet in China; and expanding China’s role in constructing, governing, and operating the Internet worldwide. Additionally, China highlighted five propositions (wǔdiǎn zhǔzhāng) with Four Principles (sìxiàng yuánzé) in Xi’s December 2015 speech by advancing the development of global network infrastructure and foster interconnection and interactivity,
 Establishing shared platforms for online cultural interaction and stimulating exchange and mutual learning promotes innovation and development in the online economy and stimulates common flourishing. Ensuring cybersecurity and promoting orderly development While constructing an Internet governance framework that encourages fairness and justice. 

China, in its white paper “Jointly Build a Community with a Shared Future in Cyberspace”, mentioned four basic principles for building a community with a shared future in cyberspace: 

Respect cyber sovereignty. The principle of sovereign equality, as outlined in the UN Charter, is a fundamental norm governing contemporary international relations in cyberspace. Every country has the right to choose its path of network development and governance model and participate equally in global governance in cyberspace, which should be respected. All countries are sovereign to formulate public policies, laws, and regulations concerning cyberspace based on their national conditions and international experience. Cyber hegemony interference in other nation's domestic affairs, as well as instigation or support of cyber activities that endanger other nations’ national security and critical information infrastructures, should be avoided by all countries. 

Safeguarding peace and security.  China fosters a secure and stable cyberspace for a people-centred approach. Countries should resolve disputes and differences through dialogue. Moreover, countries should address traditional and non-traditional security threats, oppose cyber adversary nations, curb arms race and armed conflicts in cyberspace, and oppose and prevent terrorism, obscenity, drug trafficking, gambling, money laundering, and other criminal activities in cyberspace. All parties should abandon the zero-sum game, Cold War mentality, and double standards, seek peace through cooperation and strive to achieve their security through common security.

Fostering openness and cooperation. China promotes the idea of openness for international collaboration and significant conditions for constructing a community with a shared future in cyberspace. Additionally, China demands that all nations uphold the concept of openness, adopt open policies, stimulate more openness, and collaborate to foster the sound development of the Internet.  China also opposes the politicisation of cybersecurity issues, opposing trade protectionism and internet fragmentation. China does not leverage its strengths by undermining the security of other countries' supply chains in information and communications technology (ICT) products and services.

Building a good order. In cyberspace, China considers both freedom and order as crucial values. They see these values as mutually reinforcing: freedom ensures the maintenance of order, and conversely, order guarantees preserving freedom. China also promotes the rights of netizens, such as freedom of speech and the exchange of ideas. China also emphasises enforcing the rule of law in cyberspace, fostering internet regulations and policies, and strengthening cyber ethics to nourish cyberspace and preserve the online environment.

Conclusion

The “Wangluo Qiangguo” concept of China is complex, multi-layered, and politicised. While the West perceives this concept as threatening the USA and Europe, China views it as a people-centric strategy. This involves advancing internet applications in various sectors, like education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and public services, to foster a global community with shared destinies. It also entails building a community of development, security, responsibility, and shared interests and nurturing a thriving digital economy.

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