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China calls for global data security standards

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The Chinese government has announced an initiative to encourage global standards on data security, which it argues should respect the data sovereignty of other countries.

The initiative was announced by State Councillor Wang Yi in Beijing, who said that China wanted to promote multilateralism in an age where certain countries are “bullying” others.

“Global data security rules that reflect the wishes of all countries and respect the interests of all parties should be reached on the basis of universal participation by all parties,” said Wang, according to a Reuters report.

“Some individual countries are aggressively pursuing unilateralism, throwing dirty water on other countries under the pretext of 'cleanliness' and conducting global hunts on leading companies of other countries under the pretext of security. This is naked bullying and should be opposed and rejected.”

According to Reuters, the initiative encourages respect for the sovereignty, jurisdiction and data governance rights of other countries. It criticises large-scale foreign surveillance via digital technologies and calls for technology companies to prevent the creation of “backdoors” in their products and services which could allow for data to be obtained by hostile actors.

Many of the eight principles announced in the initiative appear to address accusations levelled against China, such as by calling for an end to mass surveillance activities.

It is not known at this time whether any other countries are supporting the initiative or how the initiative would be implemented internationally.

China tightly controls its own digital space through initiatives such as the Great Firewall; by heavily restricting access to foreign websites such as Google, Facebook, Wikipedia and many foreign news sites, and with the Internet Security Law, which requires operators to store data within China, enshrining in law the concept of cyber-space sovereignty. This law has attracted criticism internationally, particularly among foreign companies concerned that it could be used to enforce data surveillance. Services such as Skype and WhatsApp were restricted in China after their parent companies refused to store their data locally.

This latest initiative comes amid the escalating US-China trade war, which has placed technology companies and issues at the heart of dispute, with US President Donald Trump focusing many of his attacks on Chinese tech giants. Trump has accused certain companies of posing a national security threat by sending user data to the Chinese government. Some of the companies directly affected, such as Huawei and ByteDance, have denied these allegations.

In August, the US announced that it would step up efforts to purge many Chinese apps and other digital products and services as part of its 'Clean Network' initiative. The programme will include measures to prevent Chinese technology companies from accessing sensitive data belonging to US citizens and businesses. The US State Department claims that more than 30 countries have joined its initiative.

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