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China Argues for ‘Internet Sovereignty.’ Is It a Good Idea?

As the Internet becomes more and more crucial to the day-to-day operations of government and multi-national companies, it’s no surprise its geopolitical import is growing to rival that of other industries like energy that dominate foreign policy.

  Source http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/06/23/chinas-lays-out-argument-for-internet-sovereignty-convinced/

In a full-page spread on the Monday, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper laid out China’s position on how the Internet and its supporting infrastructure should be dealt with across the globe.

The page featured interviews with five Chinese experts, including the so-called “father” of China’s Great Firewall Fan Binxing. The upshot: They believe each country should have ultimate power to determine what Internet traffic flows in and out of its territory. It’s a concept China has termed “Internet sovereignty,” and though the opinions of each expert in the article varied, the core message is that each nation should have the right to govern the Internet as it sees fit.

The addendum is that the U.S. has too long exerted too much control over the Internet, and the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden exposes U.S. hypocrisy in calling for a more open Internet while simultaneously monitoring foreign governments, companies and individuals.

The U.S. government recently said it plans to give up control over the body that manages Internet names and addresses, in a move designed to assuage concerns following Mr. Snowden’s leaks and also to encourage international cooperation over management of the Web. Still, a number of U.S. hardware and Internet companies continue to control huge swathes of the globe’s Internet traffic.

“’Internet sovereignty’ is an idea that is in line with the rules of international law,” the People’s Daily said. “From a practical point of view, each country should have the right to implement its own Internet policies and regulations according to its needs. Other countries have no right to interfere with this.”

On the flip side, some have argued that a smaller role for the U.S. could result in the Balkanization of the Internet – making the Chinese Internet, for example, even more cut off from the rest of the web than it already is.

Outrage over U.S. cyberspying is set to continue, but the more salient question at this point is whether the world would be better off with a less U.S.-centric Internet, even if that means the risk of an Internet in which more countries take steps to censor and block content.

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