Crouching Tiger, Hidden Agenda?: The Emergence of China in the Global Internet Standard-Setting Arena
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2980-9420>Christopher S. Yoo 0000-0003-2980-9420
China is making an active push to enlarge its role in the development of Internet-related technical standards. The prevailing narrative surrounding this trend suggests that Beijing is aiming to uproot the liberal, democratic values embedded in the Internet’s technical foundation and governance arrangements in favor of authoritarian-friendly alternatives. For many, these fears were fully realized when Chinese tech giant Huawei came to the UN-affiliated International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and proposed the development of a future core Internet protocol called “New IP”. This proposal allegedly sought to redesign the architecture of the Internet in a way that would both enhance and export the Chinese government’s capacity for digital repression. Informed by the understanding of Chinese standards influence as a geopolitical and ideological threat, many are now calling for a more aggressive response to countering Chinese engagement in Internet standards bodies. Yet, the conventional narrative seems to be missing something. Specifically, it overlooks the fact that the sophisticated Internet control apparatus China has developed over the years can already censor and surveil quite effectively at present and that shifting responsibility for core protocol development to the state-driven ITU would not necessarily enhance its ability to do so. A more comprehensive understanding of this trend is needed. Using New IP as the primary case study, this article examines China's standard-setting push, its potential motivations, and its implications for the future of the global Internet. We conclude that it is far from clear that New IP was indeed intended as a trojan horse for digital authoritarianism. Observing that technical evolution of the Internet—particularly the type endorsed in Huawei’s proposal—plays a prominent role in China’s long-term industrial policy strategy, we find it equally plausible that New IP was motivated by economic considerations, something that has largely been absent from the debate over China’s standards ambitions. We thus caution against the presumption that Chinese-developed standards are intended to advance the cause of digital repression as well as against politically driven opposition to growing Chinese participation at Internet standard-setting bodies. This insight is crucial, as the way American policymakers and Internet stakeholders respond to this trend will undoubtedly impact both the future of the global Internet and U.S. technological leadership in this domain.
standards, Internet governance, China, geopolitics, international organizations, internet regulation
Federal Communications Law Journal
Yoo, Christopher S. and Mueller, Alexander, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Agenda?: The Emergence of China in the Global Internet Standard-Setting Arena" (2024). Articles. 313.