BRICS emerging economies to expand co-operation on internet security

The cybersnooping saga pushes the major emerging economies, including China, to reduce reliance on American technology

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 5:50am

Edward's Snowden's revelations about US cybersnooping appear to be pushing its rivals closer together as China and other major emerging economies agree to expand co-operation on internet security.

The consensus to emerge from a meeting of senior security officials from the BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - shows a broad desire to carve out their own turf in cyberspace and reduce reliance on American technology.

The meeting came just weeks after Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, disclosed to the South China Morning Post details of US cyberspying efforts in China, including hacking into the systems of Tsinghua University and Chinese telecommunications firms.

"The bloc of developing countries have been getting closer and closer on the issue of cyber and information security, especially now that it seems to be clear that the US is a threat to them in these areas," said Professor Liu Deliang , head of the Asia-Pacific Institute for Cyber Law Studies at Beijing Normal University.

"Countries like China, Russia and India obviously feel how the internet is currently run is unsafe for their development and they must get together and guard against the US," Liu said.

Snowden's claims have bolstered fears that reliance on equipment and software made by US-based companies, like Cisco or Microsoft, represent a security threat to China because they could provide the US government with a back door into critical Chinese systems.

Tensions between the two countries were already running high over hacking, amid claims that People's Liberation Army hackers had infiltrated numerous private US companies, including The New York Times.

Cybersecurity was a main topic of discussion at President Xi Jinping's and US President Barack Obama's summit last month, which ended just before Snowden made his claims about US cyberspying in China.

The cybersecurity consensus was announced by public security tsar Meng Jianzhu after the gathering of BRICS security officials in Vladivostok, Russia, according to Xinhua.

Meng, who is also secretary of the State Council's political and legislative affairs committee, said the international community should work together to combat cybercrime and speed up the implementation of information security regulations.

Jin Canrong, the associate dean of Renmin University's School of International Relations, said the consensus on cybersecurity at the BRICS forum shows its desire to become "a power-wielding" group.

"Every country wants to be safe from attacks and surveillance," Jin said. "But now the US seems to be the biggest common threat to them."

The bloc is already collaborating on the BRICS cable, a US$1.5 billion marine fibre optic cable linking the BRICS countries and the US with 21 countries in Africa. It is due to begin service in mid-2015.

The BRICS discussions may strengthen Beijing's position ahead of the Sino-US strategic and economic dialogue in Washington this week.