The art of outsmarting your enemy has transcended imagination in our cyber era. Advances in technology have added a new dimension to it by leveling hierarchy and dispelling secrecy. The period of diplomacy being confined to power blocks of nations’ external affairs ministries has ended.China is one of most populous nations in the world and is witnessing a mushrooming of a vibrant civil society. The burgeoning growth of its population is juxtaposed with the fact that it has few resources but a high level of demand.
After a long spell of isolation in the past, China now doles out billions to many nations of the world. China is aware of the role it has to play in innovation and global affairs at large and is aware about the significance of capturing cyberspace for its global ambitions. With China’s increasing investments in 5G technology, US risks losing its technology leadership position. In the push for next-generation networks, China is acting strategically by taking its investments and innovation on
the path of eventually creating a monopoly.
Cyberspace has always been an ambiguous idea for domestic and international affairs. However changing times and the availability of even classified information on the internet have made heads of state look at cyberspace as a new domain that needs to be controlled. The world is connected in mind-boggling ways and our leaders can no longer afford to live in a bubble.
The present approach to international relations developed in the context of wars initially and industries later on. Now, information technology has led to a new paradox of power in the state: The internet, as a form of new media, has transferred a considerable amount of power from the state to the hands of the individual. The internet may not be attached to any value system but it has slowly become a battleground for different interests.
There is a global rush for next-generation wireless networks as they are seen as a game changer for businesses and governments. China’s cyber foray brings multiple advantages: reducing its dependence on foreign sources in any aspect of software and hardware procurement, developing a strong foothold against cyber attacks and, most importantly, tackling the flow of information in a unilateral way to serve its agenda.
There will be challenges also for the country with this internet adventurism. However, it is well known how millions of people in China have grown up reading and watching their censored version of the internet. China’s internet management was evident in the way it accommodated Google—as long as the search engine complied with its domestic guidelines. Its originally indigenous units like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu fear nothing with regard to competition, as they have the tenacity of ‘global beasts’, with their portfolios now more diversified than before, as compared with many tech companies in the West.
Furthermore, Chinese organisations are challenging their American counterparts in patents—a significant yardstick for defining the future narrative in innovation and technology. The United States may have dominated the internet in the past but now China wants to be a cyber superpower. As the internet debate becomes belligerent, the impact on states is consequential. There are global economic, legal and ethical implications of this dangerous shift where the US is losing out and China aims to capture the web. Only at our peril can we ignore this Chinese cyberspace project.
The issues that emerge from all of this, with their potential impact on India as well as the rest of the world, are no different. If the internet is in danger of being undone with barriers on free flow of information and the backlash against free trade, there is also a possibility of one nation completely dominating the medium and in turn impacting global governance and institutions. Technology used to be seen as progressive and, among large sections the global village, continues to be seen that way. China’s impact on the internet might act like a boomerang, though. Its past record shows that it wants to be a global power in its hunt for markets but prefers its businesses to be closed off from the world.
It is in the interest of any country to have a healthy domestic internet environment. Nations may need to be equipped with sufficient laws and infrastructure to deal with Chinese artificial intelligence and other digital tools.
Freedom of expression and privacy are two core concerns of many vocal internet users. Data theft, surveillance and a restricted access to information are of concern too. These are exactly the areas where China’s track record has not been exemplary.
Even though we may be more connected than ever in history, this connection is being openly misused. Fake news alters our perception and makes us cynical of governments by presenting biased information. There are concerns about how we tend to believe in everything and anything we see online without the thinking about cross-checking and verifying. If this Chinese attempt to monopolise the internet is ignored, then democracies will be guilty of ignoring the ubiquity of internet. The future of national sovereignty and global connect in a digital world is under attack. Therefore,
nations must accord priority to have internet that is globally vibrant.