Courtney J. Fung is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at The University of Hong Kong and concurrently Associate Fellow in the Asia Pacific Programme at Chatham House. Her research focuses on how rising powers address the norms and provisions for global governance and international security, as applied to human protection issues – like peacekeeping, the responsibility to protect and cyber – with an empirical focus on a key rising power, China. She is the author of China and Intervention at the UN Security Council: Reconciling Status (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019). Her research is published in peer-reviewed journals like The China Quarterly, Cooperation and Conflict, Global Governance, International Affairs, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, Journal of Global Security Studies, and Third World Quarterly. She holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
China’s Use of Rhetorical Adaptation in Development of a Global Cyber Order: a case study of the norm of the protection of the public core of the internet
How does China shape a global information order, regarding the norms and institutions that manage the cross-border flows of data? Information is a most highly-prized resource, and information technologies are now ubiquitous in all aspects of life. ‘Cyber norms’ are the preferred tool to govern cross-border flows of information, given the rapidity of technological change. Concurrently, China’s technological advantages, growing material power, and ambitions to be a ‘cyber superpower’ all underscore the point that no major social or political issue can be multilaterally mediated without at least tacit PRC cooperation. China’s preferred set of ‘cyber-sovereignty’ (wangluo zhuquan) norms reorient internet governance to the United Nations and specialist state-led international fora, and emphasize the dominant position of the state in regard to information management.
The excellent case study literature on China’s positions on cyber issues does not explicitly address China’s cyber-sovereignty norm entrepreneurship in a theoretically-informed manner. This paper addresses the conceptual and empirical lacunae through descriptive research using an evidence-based approach including textual analysis of primary sources (policy statements, semi-authoritative news sources etc.) and secondary literature in Chinese and English languages pertaining to China’s approach to cyber norms. I highlight China’s use of rhetorical adaptation – a strategy and set of tactics that simultaneously modify norm content while also deflecting and reducing critiques of norm obstructionism to modify cyber norms. The paper uses a case study of a foundational cyber norm: protection of the public core of the internet, which focuses on “safeguarding the functionality and integrity of the core logical and physical infrastructure of the internet from unwarranted state interventions” (Broeders 2017). The PRC use of rhetorical adaptation renovates norm content by centering the PRC state as the public core of the internet that must be protected – in short internet infrastructure security is in service to state security.