China seeks greater role in setting international rules for digital economy

The global digital economy largely lacks a unified legal framework

China has said it wants a greater role in setting the rules for the international digital economy and criticised the United States for trying to use the international order to contain it.

On Friday, foreign vice-minister Xie Feng told a forum on international laws in Beijing: “China is willing to work with all parties to explore the development of high-standard digital economic and trade rules, implementing green, low-carbon and sustainable development [standards] … so as to inject new energy into international economic and trade rules.”

Without naming the US, Xie told the meeting of officials and legal scholars that “certain countries” had tried to bully others by forcing their own “family law and gang rules” onto others in the name of “advocating a rules-based international order”.

“Certain countries ignore the basic principles of international law … and put their domestic laws above international treaties and agreements, abuse ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ and unilateral sanctions, and use or threaten to use force at every turn, which has seriously undermined the sovereignty, security and development interests of other countries,” Xie said, according to a transcript published on the website of Chinese foreign ministry.

Earlier, Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said in an opening speech that Beijing would continue to push forward the Belt and Road Initiative, an international infrastructure and investment programme.

However, he said further efforts were needed in “international rules-setting in emerging areas such as the digital economy and encouraging the use of safe and secure digital means to promote cross-border trade facilitation”.

China is a relative latecomer to the digital economy – which largely lacks a unified rules-based order – but has emerged as a major player in the field and regards technologies such as big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence as important tools to chart its economic future.

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But its tough regulations on data transfers and restrictions on foreign digital services have faced increasing scrutiny from the West, while the US has repeatedly accused China of misappropriating foreign technologies.

There have been growing concerns in China that the country’s vast digital economy, which made up nearly 40 per cent of total gross domestic product last year, will be sidelined globally as the US works with its allies to contain the country’s growing influence.

Earlier this month, China announced that it had applied to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, which currently covers Singapore, New Zealand and Chile and is designed to deepen economic integration between participants.

Two months earlier it also applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade agreement involving 11 countries that was designed to replace a deal the US abandoned.

Both agreements have some of the world’s tightest standards on digital trade, particularly with regard to intellectual property protection and data controls, and China is likely to face a series of obstacles before either application can succeed.

China seeks greater role in setting international rules for digital economy – South China Morning Post

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