A US report accuses China of “digital authoritarianism” – using technology not only to track its own citizens but to exert power beyond its borders.
It warns that China’s mounting influence on the digital sphere could soon overshadow that of the US and other democracies.
And it expresses concern about its export of surveillance technology.
The US has put pressure on other countries to ban Huawei from their mobile networks.
And it is also considering a wider ban on other Chinese tech firms such as TikTok.
Relationships between the US and China are tense, not just over the role of Chinese tech firms but over the coronavirus pandemic and more general trade between the two nations.
Sweeping new security rules in Hong Kong and evidence suggesting ill-treatment of the Uighur population have added to general concerns about China’s role in global politics.
The report, commissioned by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, warns that China could rewrite the rules of the internet unless the US and its allies push back.
“The United States is now on a precipice of losing the future of the cyber domain to China,” the report reads.
“If China continues to perfect the tools of digital authoritarianism and is able to effectively implement them both domestically and abroad, then China, not the United States and its allies, will shape the digital environment.”
It warns that Beijing has already heavily invested in digital surveillance technology which it has exported to countries such as Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan.
Meanwhile many of the world’s biggest tech platforms – Google, Twitter and Facebook – are banned inside China.
The report recommends that the US government:
- sets up a cyber military service academy
- forms a coalition of countries to counteract China
- creates a digital rights promotion fund to push back against China’s use of mass surveillance
Leslie Vinjamuri, an expert with Chatham House think-tank, said it was a “significant” report that suggested the Democrats would be tough on China if the party took power after the 2020 election.
“This is a signal of where the Democrats are going and suggests a forceful set of policies that will put more pressure on Europe to follow the US on this,” she said.
“This has been a long time coming and is basically a call to arms for the US to protect not just itself and its technology companies, but to lead a campaign for all democracies. If they can get a co-ordinated strategy, that is a graver threat to China.”
Offering alternatives to firms such as Huawei was an “intelligent play if you want to keep China out”, she added.