China launches global data security initiative to counter US pressure

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Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the opening ceremony of the fifth annual meeting of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank via video link, in Beijing, capital of China, July 28, 2020.

Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — China launched a global data security initiative on Tuesday outlining principles that should be followed in areas from personal information to espionage.

The initiative, announced by Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing, comes as the U.S. continues to put pressure on China’s largest technology companies and convince countries around the world to block them. 

China’s initiative has eight key points including not using technology to impair other countries’ critical infrastructure or steal data, and making sure service providers don’t install backdoors in their products and illegally obtain user data.

Wang also said the initiative looks to put an end to activities that “infringe upon personal information” and oppose using technology to conduct mass surveillance against other states.

Companies should also respect the laws of host countries and stop coercing domestic firms to store data generated overseas in their own territory, the initiative added.

Many of those points appear to address some of Washington’s accusations.  

The U.S. has accused China’s technology companies of posing national security threats by collecting user data and sending them back to Beijing. Companies including Huawei and ByteDance have denied those allegations. 

“We have not and will not ask Chinese companies to transfer data overseas to the government in breach of other countries’ laws,” Wang said. 

Anyone signing up to the pledge should also respect the sovereignty, jurisdiction and governance of data of other states and avoid asking companies or individuals located in other countries to provide data without permission. 

China has its own rules around censorship and data. A system known as the Great Firewall effectively blocks services like Google and Facebook, while China’s censors regularly tell the country’s internet companies to take down content. Meanwhile, countries like Australia have raised concerns about two pieces of Chinese legislation that appear to compel companies to hand over data to Beijing if asked

It is unclear if any country has signed up to China’s initiative and how it will be implemented and policed. But the world’s second-largest economy has been looking to increase its role in setting standards around the world from areas from data to telecommunications. 

… a certain country keeps making groundless accusations against others in the name of ‘clean’ network and used security as a pretext to prey on enterprises of other countries who have a competitive edge.

Wang Yi

China’s Foreign Minister

Wang took a swipe at the U.S. in his speech when he announced the initiative.

“Bent on unilateral acts, a certain country keeps making groundless accusations against others in the name of ‘clean’ network and used security as a pretext to prey on enterprises of other countries who have a competitive edge,” he said. “Such blatant acts of bullying must be opposed and rejected.”

Last month, the U.S. unveiled its “Clean Network” initiative, a program aimed at “safeguarding the nation’s assets including citizens’ privacy and companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.” 

The U.S. State Department says more than 30 countries have joined, but did not name them. Some companies are also on board its program. 

Meanwhile, Washington has been upping the pressure on Chinese technology firms. In August, the U.S. amended a rule that looked to effectively cut Huawei off from key semiconductor supplies. And in the same month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning transactions with TikTok owner ByteDance and WeChat owner Tencent. 

Other countries have also blocked Chinese technology firms.

Huawei will not be playing a role in the next-generation 5G networks in Australia and the U.K. Recently, India banned 118 Chinese apps over rising tensions related to a dispute over the Himalayan mountain border in the region of Ladakh. 

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