Cyber China Means Trouble

"Beijing's vision of the Internet is ascendant," writes the Council on Foreign Relations' Adam Segal in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs. This is not a good thing. 

While the United States is drowning in the reckless self-absorption of red-blue tribalism and moronic rhetoric about reviving a near-death coal industry, Chinese President Xi is pursuing lofty goals that are changing the face of global technology. 

Xi intends to nullify U.S. leadership in cyberspace, especially now as we drift through our current period of somnambulism. China is investing heavily in graduate education and massive R&D efforts to innovate in cyber-defense, semi-conductors, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and robotics. Beijing has been consistently growing its once-anemic R&D spending to a point where it now comprises 20 percent of the world's total - and climbing. Xi has also been flexing his muscles in shaping standards for the next generation of 5G mobile network technology. 

Segal reminds us that Xi's vision here is not benign. It starts with cyber-defense, of course, but in his terms that means controlling, limiting and even closing the Internet because, well, that's what dictators do. They fear facts, truth, openness, resistance and any technologies that undermine their ability to shape reality in their own image.

He writes that, "China envisions a world of national Internets, with government control justified by sovereign rights of the states." In normal times that statement should shock our national leaders, a calcified, mid-20th Century crowd who wouldn't know a semiconductor from a semicolon. Sadly, however, these are not normal times for the United States, and China knows it. Beijing's massive cyber-push must also disillusion those who once hoped the Internet would reduce barriers and open borders, a blind faith Segal now brands as "the West's naive optimism about the liberalizing potential of the Internet." 

Would any reasonable American analyst or observer want to change places with China in the cyber arena? No, at least not yet. Beijing's clumsy, top-down efforts should pale in comparison to what will continue to flow from the U.S. private sector, even without much enlightened government support. That said, we are ceding important strategic ground to Beijing and losing momentum. Isn't it about time to wake up?

 Image courtesy of Satmarin.