restricted access 9 China and Global Internet Governance
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9 China and Global Internet Governance A Tiger by the Tail Milton L. Mueller As of June 2010 the Chinese government claimed the country’s number of “netizens,” or Internet users, had increased to 430 million.1 That very large number is only 32 percent of China’s total population.2 Already one of the biggest presences on the Internet, and with a long way to go yet, China and the Internet enjoy a complex and seemingly paradoxical relationship. Many Westerners have trouble making sense of the way China’s socialist market economy (SME) combines heavy restrictions with vibrant growth, and globalized networking with an insistence on territorial sovereignty . Western observers have long abandoned the notion that the Internet was inherently uncontrollable and that its use would automatically overthrow dictatorships . They are now replacing that simplistic notion with an equally coarse inversion: the image of China as the constructor of an impregnable “Great Firewall,” a place of omnipotent surveillance, a population susceptible to well-organized propaganda campaigns , and a source of pervasive and insidious cyber attacks and cyber espionage. It is a new Internet version of the Cold War. The Internet in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) strains and challenges the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to maintain control. And the fact that China needs to be linked to the external world, through the Internet as well as through trade, provides a double challenge. The international environment of Internet governance is freer, is private-sector based, and is more capitalistic than China’s rulers would prefer. And, it is subject to U.S. hegemony. If one combines an analysis of the global politics of Internet governance with an understanding of the long-term status of China’s reform process, one can understand better which factors facilitate and which place constraints on the party’s ability to regulate the Internet. One can even, perhaps, understand how the further development of digital communications might contribute to a transformation of Chinese society. This chapter outlines a general framework for understanding Internet politics and locating China within it. It then analyzes China’s attempt to move against the grain of the current Internet governance regime, promoting sovereignty and intergovernmental institutions in opposition to the new, transnational, and private-sector-based 178 Milton L. Mueller Internet governance institutions such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). The next section describes various interactions and spillover effects, both intended and unintended, between China’s attempt to maintain its Great Firewall and the globalized operations that characterize the Internet, focusing in particular on the domain name system (DNS) and routing, and cyber espionage. A concluding section places these issues in a more general discussion of the tensions inherent in the Chinese “socialist market economy.” The Four Quadrants of Internet Politics and China’s Place in Them In another work I have described the politics of Internet governance using a space defined by two axes.3 This conceptual scheme is predicated on recognizing that the Internet does indeed create a novel form of politics around communication and information policy. The novelty comes from the Internet’s transnational scope, its massively increased scale of interaction, its distribution of control, its capacity to facilitate new forms of collective action, and the emergence of new, nonstate-based governance institutions native to the Internet. The horizontal axis pertains to the status of the territorial nation-state in the governance of the Internet and communications technology generally. The vertical axis identifies the level of hierarchical control one is willing to countenance in the solution of Internet governance problems. Together, these axes form a four-quadrant space, which provides a useful schema for analyzing and classifying the various ideologies and policy systems related to the Internet. In figure 9.1, the horizontal or nation-state axis locates one’s view of the appropriate polity. Those on the right side of this axis prefer the traditional territorial nationstate as the institutional basis for governing the Internet. At the rightmost extreme stand those who would subordinate the Internet to national sovereignty completely— in effect, negating global networking altogether in favor of a bounded, analog telephone -network-like regime. At the left extreme, Internet governance decisions would be made by a globalized polity where national borders, national sovereignty, and national identity play almost no role. The vertical or networking-hierarchy axis juxtaposes free association (at the top) with command and control (at the...


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