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China’s Global Initiative on Data Security has a message for Europe

The facts: Amid growing global mistrust of China’s information and communication technology (ICT) firms and social media apps, Beijing announced a new "Global Initiative on Data Security". The initiative, a clear response to the US "Clean Network Program", uses language familiar from previous occasions on which China articulated its vision for data security: strong localization re-quirements and the right for different jurisdictions to govern data and the digital economy as they wish, based on "mutual respect." Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for global data governance rules based on multilateralism and "fairness and justice."

MERICS analysis: "China's rulemaking ambitions in the realm of data governance and the digital economy more broadly are not new. While the 'Global Initiative on Data Security' is not so much a concrete proposal as a rhetorical exercise, its timing is interesting," says MERICS analyst Rebecca Arcesati. "The initiative came just days before the first High-Level Digital Dialogue between the EU and China. Europe has been the focus of the US campaign to ensure that there are more countries and mobile-phone carriers that are '5G clean', meaning that they choose not to work with Chinese supplier Huawei." 

What to watch: Beijing will likely seek to take advantage of transatlantic divisions on data govern-ance to present China as a trusted partner for the EU. Beijing's proposal implicitly engages with European sensitivities about US digital surveillance of foreign citizens, coming less than two months after a landmark decision by the Court of Justice (CJEU) that invalidated the mechanism for transferring personal data from the EU to the US. Beijing might also point out that its new pri-vacy protection framework took inspiration from Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But transatlantic divergences will arguably do little to ease growing European concerns around China's intrusive surveillance state.

Media coverage and sources:

This short analysis first appeared in the September 24 issue of MERICS China Briefing.