China plots path to get ahead of global cyber pack

But detailed domestic plan does not quell concerns among foreign players about access to the sector and cybersecurity requirements

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 11:32pm

China has unveiled an ambitious plan to become a leading cyberpower, but foreign players are concerned about just how open the sector will be.

Under the plan, the country should become a leader in some key information and communications technologies by 2020. Breakthroughs in 5G-related technologies are expected by the same deadline.

The plan will guide policy and spells out the vision of internet and “cyberspace sovereignty” President Xi ­Jinping promoted at a major internet forum in Wuzhen, last year.

The blueprint lays out the ambitions of Beijing – which on one hand allows broad commercial use of the internet and on the other runs one of the world’s harshest online policing systems – to subject information technology to its economic and social agendas.

The plan did not mention opening up the internet market to foreign companies. China still closes its doors to many websites, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, and does not allow foreign telecom operators.

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Zhang Yingchao, an analyst at London-based research agency North Square Blue Oak, said the government was very cautious about opening up the internet.

“It imposes strict information control while it aims to boost e-commerce and its Internet Plus strategy,” Zhang said.

The plan also vowed to speed up the Made in China 2025 initiative to boost hi-tech manufacturing and targeted cooperation in the digital economy with the US, Europe, Britain and Germany.

But a draft cybersecurity law may hamper that cooperation, despite the plan’s pledge to “study regulation of cross-border information movement” and “protect personal privacy, corporate commercial secrets, and safeguard ­national security”.

Such legal uncertainty has made companies very hesitant to do business in China
Michael Clauss, German ambassador to China

China released the second draft of the law this month after strong protests by foreign business. But it has not yet addressed their concerns, such as on the broad nature of cybersecurity and local data storage requirements.

“Such legal uncertainty has made companies very hesitant to do business in China,” German ambassador to China Michael Clauss said.

“As long as our concerns ondata security are not addressed I don’t see any hope of progress in the cooperation of [Germany’s] Industrial 4.0 and Made in China 2025.”

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Zhang Ming, from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said foreign business concerns were mainly due to the lack of communication between regulators and business.

“Now they cannot fully trust each other,” he said. “Meanwhile different authorities have various, sometimes conflicting, policy purposes, such as growth and the need for security, which requires further communication.”

But University of International Relations associate professor Chu Yin said there had been positive signs of a softening in cyber control in commercial information since Xu Lin had headed up the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet ­regulator.