Security and other issues related to cyberspace have increasingly affected international relations, leading to a war of words among some major world powers. Openness and freedom are the two basic features of the Internet, through which information freely flows from one person to another and from one country to another, and that is why “freedom” is said to be the founding stone of cyberspace.
But this freedom cannot be limitless and should not challenge the normal order of cyberspace. As Lu Wei, minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China, once said, freedom is the purpose while order serves to protect it. Freedom and regulation are not mutually contradictory. Instead, they are two sides of the same coin.
Besides, since cyberspace, despite being called the virtual world, is intimately connected with the real world, chaos in the former can lead to disastrous consequences in the latter. The riots that rocked London, Birmingham and several other cities in the United Kingdom in 2011 after the death of a black UK citizen and flared up thanks to social networks are a good example of how lack of order in the virtual world can cause mayhem in the real world.
To prevent such tragedies from happening and since all freedoms come with responsibilities and limits, most countries have enacted laws to regulate cyberspace. But some countries, to fulfill their narrow interests, try to politicize the laws that other countries have implemented as a safeguard against the bedlam the misuse of cyberspace could unleash on society.
Take the US for instance. For the past several years, based on its claim that freedom of the Internet is a universal right, it has been trying to promote cyberspace as a public domain together with the Antarctica, the oceans and space, and has thus been avoiding the issue of national sovereignty.
The US’ efforts reek of hegemonic philosophy. In fact, the US has been spreading its ideology in other countries through many websites and social networks, so as to trigger political disputes in societies that adhere to political philosophies other than that propounded by Washington. We should not forget that countries like Libya have become victims of the US’ promotion of Western-style democracy.
Another reason for the US to talk about freedom of the Internet is to serve its trade and protectionist policies and cause trade frictions with other countries. With its modern technologies and global influence, Washington has been trying to help US-based enterprises enter other countries’ markets on the pretext of defending free trade. When Google was pulled up by the Chinese government for violating the country’s laws, the US government ironically accused China of not being a “free” country.
As a result, politicization of Internet freedom has become an obstacle to international cooperation. With the dispute over Internet freedom already a major international issue, countries with different understandings of cyberspace accuse each other of violating rules. Some of these differences have even led to trade frictions and protectionist measures.
Worse, other political issues are involved in the disputes over Internet freedom, which can easily turn into wider conflicts and make it more difficult for the related countries to resolve the existing issues.
Therefore, to boost global cooperation countries across the world should avoid pointing the finger against each other to prove whose Internet rules are better.
The author is a senior researcher in cybersecurity at China Center for Information Industry Development, affiliated to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
By Liu Quan (China Daily)
Internet Governance: Is it finally time to drop the training wheels?