Editor’s note: This article is one of three briefings on China’s rise and its implications for U.S. regional and global interests, coinciding with an upcoming panel, in collaboration with WPR, at the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs on Feb. 17-19 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The first, on China’s global economic ambitions, appeared Monday; the second, on China’s naval modernization, appeared Wednesday.
The Internet revolution began in the 1990s, when China was still recovering from the damage done during Mao Zedong’s reign and the world was adjusting to the West’s post-Cold War pre-eminence. Under such circumstances, Chinese leaders saw the Internet as not just another transformative Western technology, but one that presented China with real risks. They did not want to escape Mao’s legacy only to become subservient to the West in cyberspace, and therefore vulnerable to ideas and influences they could not control.
As a result, China adopted strategies, developed capabilities, and advanced norms for the cyber realm to defend itself from such perceived threats. But in doing so, China has done more than just defend its sovereignty. It is attempting to exercise a form of suzerainty in cyberspace that threatens U.S. interests, ideas and influence.