Georgy Asatryan, professor at the international security department at the Russian State University Combat for World Wide Web. USA and China fight for virtual world / SCO Shanghai Cooperation Organization

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Combat for World Wide Web. USA and China fight for virtual world
22.04.2019 12:29 Georgy Asatryan, professor at the international security department at the Russian State University

For the past 50 years the USA has been the leader in the cyberspace. However, China has been manifesting itself in this field more actively lately.

Chinese President Xi Jinping tasked China to become a "superpower in cyberspace" and created a special agency, the Cyberspace Administration of China. Washington is alarmed by China's snowball development of cybertechnologies. Recently, American officials have been banned from using China's ZTE and Huawei smartphones. The influential journal Foreign Affairs published an article headlined "World War Web. The Fight for the Internet's Future."

The history of China's relationship with the World Wide Web began in late 1980-s. The first visit to the web was by means of e-mail. In 1987, the first e-mail to Europe was sent. The message consisted of just one phrase that later became known to whole China: " Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner of the world." And they did that. China secured extraordinary successes in the sphere of the Internet development.

The real Chinese Internet appeared only in 1994, when the country permanently connected national servers to the World Wide Web. China then also got its national domain, .cn. Shortly after, the number of users started to rapidly grow. By 2008, China with a population of almost 1.5 billion people was the first in terms of the number of Internet users.

But the breakthrough in the virtual world occurred in 2012, when Xi Jinping came to power in China. It was he who said that China should become a "superpower in cyberspace." For example, in 2013, according to China's state statistics, there were 618 million Internet users, which accounts to about 10% of all users in the world or 45% of China's population. By 2016, the CIA Factbook recorded more than 730 million Internet users in China, which is almost 50% of the country's population.

China is known for its unique administration system. To put it simply, the system successfully combines elements of almost ubiquitous state control and a mixture of market and planned economy. This couldn't have failed to affect the Internet. For example, access to foreign websites is strictly prohibited. Many websites undergo constant filtration in terms of keywords and hashtags. The state security system has a black list of websites.

But this didn't hinder the snowball development of high technologies. By 2011, Beijing had become the world's leader in terms of server capacity. Several years after, China capacity was twice as big as America's.

China's leader said that cybersovereignty is an integral element of the country's independence. China actively started to create analogues of Western social networks. And it is a well-known fact what influence they have in the present-day world. By the way, American IT giants experience difficulties in China. For example, Google was forced to leave the Chinese virtual world in 2010. Twitter and Instagram are also banned there. Meanwhile, China's QQ Tencent is a kind of substitution for Facebook and other messengers. The social network was launched in 1999 and now has almost 900 million registered accounts. Chinese users also actively use other social networks, such as WeChat, Qzone and Pengyo. Their total reach exceeds 1 billion people.

USA's history of relationship with the World Wide Web is totally different. It can be described by the word that was the origin of the most famous domain - .com – commercial. The American Internet that appeared in late 1980-s and early 1990-s has been developing thanks to the aspiration "to make money" and the Americans' commercial spirit. According to the journal Foreign Affairs, the essence of confrontation is that the USA is trying to promote the open and commercial Internet. And this is no altruism. The reasons are quite obvious; America is the leader in these spheres. Meanwhile, China wants to create its own Internet and surround it by the "Great Wall." To put it simply, the Internet in China is under the state control, whereas in the USA private initiative blossoms. Beijing is actively creating its websites that are getting more and more popular. Its own Internet, a parallel reality is being created.

Let's pay attention to the geopolitical element of the fight for the Internet, in which Russia plays an important role. It is common knowledge that Moscow and Beijing have been promoting a joint initiative of elaborating unified rules of conduct on the Internet for several years.

America's dominance in the information sphere was overwhelming until a certain period of time. Today the USA is ahead of many states as far as technologies are concerned, but Russia and China are pursuing America in terms of some indices.

The USA and China have clashed not only in the geopolitical and trade spheres but also in the virtual world. And the winner will be the one whom Russia supports.


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