Bullying Empire: How US tries to rule world’s internet through sanctions, China slander campaigns
Published: Jun 15, 2023 09:32 PM

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

It has been a decade since the PRISM scandal which enraged the world was exposed by Edward Snowden. Under the guise of so-called national interests, the US government and its related intelligence agencies utilize their technological and first-mover advantages to conduct cyber surveillance on and attack the rest of the world. 

Relying on its hegemony in cyberspace, the US has used its cyber capabilities as one of its tools in hybrid warfare. Just like other tools such as economic sanctions, terrorist activities, and military intervention, the US has used cyberwarfare to interfere in other countries' internal affairs for political gain. To maintain its hegemony, the US has conducted "digital colonization" over other countries and committed various covert crimes, making itself out as a "surveillance empire," an "attacking empire," and a "bullying empire."

In the fifth installment of this series, the Global Times looks into how this "bullying empire" tries to stamp the world's internet with US rules and values, and its attempts to curb China's rise in the digital sphere, through various underhanded tricks.

The US added 31 Chinese entities to an export control list this week, which bars them from accessing US technologies and components. The latest batch contained many information and technology enterprises including one affiliated to the Shanghai Supercomputer Center.

Similar moves by the US have repeatedly taken place in recent years, blacklisting an increasing number of innocent tech companies, and information and communication from China and other countries. With its sanction list getting longer and longer, the US' ugly face of unscrupulously bullying others in the digital world is plain for all to see.

For decades, to solidify its position as a global hegemon, the US has continued to conduct indiscriminate surveillance and attacks against other countries in cyberspace under in the guise of protecting so-called "national security" or "human rights," while also imposing various sanctions targeting foreign tech companies.

Worse still, as a "bullying empire" in cyberspace itself, the US has made increasing attempt to smear China while concealing its own evil deeds. By defaming China as a "digital authoritarian" country, it attempts to harm China's image, suppress Chinese companies, and curb China's technological development especially in the digital sphere, observers warned.

Flagrant abuse of sanctions

It's hard to exactly know how many foreign tech companies, especially Chinese ones, have fallen victim to the US' flagrant abuse of sanctions under various contrived excuses. Press releases of an additional number of Chinese enterprises to be added onto the US Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) blacklist have flooded the newsroom page of the bureau's website, the Global Times reporter found.

According to a press release it published on Monday, the latest batch of Chinese firms being added onto the blacklist include the Shanghai Supercomputing Technology Co, the Beijing Ryan Wende Science and Technology Co, and the aerospace and defense conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), covering tech fields including aviation, IT, and computer science.

These entities were added to the Entity List for "activities contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests," according to the BIS.

To maintain its military and tech hegemony, the US has, time and again, augmented the concept of national security and abused state power to go after Chinese companies, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Tuesday, in response to a related media question.

By August 2022, there were some 600 Chinese entities on the US Commerce Department's Entity List, over 110 of which had been added since the start of the Biden Administration, stated a BIS press release on August 23 that year. This appalling list includes numerous Chinese tech giants such as Huawei and ZTE.

China's internet and cybersecurity companies are a main target for US sanctions and crackdowns. On May 22, 2020, the US added leading Chinese cybersecurity firm Qihoo 360 to the Entity List, claiming the latter "represent a significant risk of supporting procurement of items for military end-use in China."

 "[We] firmly oppose this irresponsible action, and oppose the US Department of Commerce's practice of politicizing business and scientific and technological research and development," Qihoo 360 responded in a statement a day later.

The baseless excuses routinely employed by the US to justify its sanctions against Chinese tech firms, such as "maintaining national security" and "supporting human rights," are fumbling attempts by the US to cover up its motives, noted cyber security and governance experts.

In fact, the US' curbing of Chinese tech companies is motivated by an irrational fear of being surpassed by China in this field, said Qin An, deputy director of the expert committee of counter-terrorism and cyber security governance, China Society of Police Law.

"The US fears that China may exceed it in not only traditional manufacturing industry but also in more advanced high-tech fields, including in cyberspace," Qin told the Global Times.

"Fields including science and technology are the US' main battlefields in its game against China," said Xu Peixi, a professor and director of the global internet governance studies center at the Communication University of China.

Believing that China has posed a threat to US dominance, the US attempts to curb China's development by cracking down on tech enterprises, Xu said.

"Having learned the painful lesson of missing out on the industrial revolution, China has made great development achievements in the eras of digital and green revolutions," Xu told the Global Times. "The US views [the emergence of China's tech companies] as a threat, and thinks from a zero-sum perspective that China is taking a slice of its pie."

Order based on US rules

With its technology and resource superiority in the cyber world, the US tries to make the rules itself and pushes other countries to obey the rules, in order to maintain its cyber supremacy, observers told the Global Times.

By building "small circles" with some of its allies, and pushing aside those outside of said "circles," the US forces other countries in the world to follow US-set internet rules, so as to impose American standards globally, they noted.

One example of the US forming "small circles" in the cyber world is the Declaration for the Future of the Internet signed by European Union (EU) members and other countries in April 2022. The US-proposed declaration was widely criticized for being replete with empty promises and hinting at attempts to provoke ideological confrontation in cyberspace.

The Declaration "is nice on paper," commented Access Now, a global non-profit organization.

Access Now stressed that the Declaration largely avoids addressing mass digital surveillance, which the US government and its Five Eyes partners pioneered, and offers little to combat the rampant profiling and maximal data collection that characterizes the big tech business model and fuels disinformation campaigns.

The Declaration was signed based on the Alliance for the Future of the Internet, a group the US proposed to build in September 2021 against countries like China and Russia. This was no more than another move in this cyber bully to stamp the internet with US values, Chinese internet experts pointed out.

The Alliance reminded people of the infamous Clean Network in 2020, a program headed by then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that aimed to keep Chinese influence and Chinese tech companies out of five areas to ensure "clean" mobile carrier networks, app stores, apps, cloud services and cables.

The US' moves of bullying and excluding China in cyberspace are laughably ridiculous, as they are based on one theory - "that the US is the world's center and without US markets and users, Chinese tech firms would not survive," Shen Yi, director of the Research Center for Cyberspace Governance at Fudan University, told the Global Times in a previous interview.

"But such a presumption no longer stands in today's multilateral world," said Shen.

Surveillance Empire: Spying for profit Graphic: GT

Surveillance Empire: Spying for profit Graphic: GT

Washington's slander campaign

Having launched lots of cyber monitoring campaigns and attacks against the world, as well as forcibly imposing US internet values on other countries, the world's largest bullying empire in cyberspace, in its typical style of crying wolf, initiated yet another offensive against China. It started a slander campaign, defaming China as implementing "digital authoritarianism," some observers found.

They discovered that the campaign started around 2018, when the US Congress held a "digital authoritarianism" themed hearing that April. It organized a similar hearing the following year, babbling on about China's "wrongdoings" in cyberspace.

Following the former US administration's slander campaign, many Western media outlets started to groundlessly accuse China for "violation of human rights" and "invasion of privacy" in the internet field. Much of the "evidence" they provided had been debunked.

Also in 2020, the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations released a biased report, in which it accused China of using its technological rise to develop "digital authoritarianism." 

 "If the US fails to lead the international community in assuring that governance of the digital domain is consistent with principles and values, that benefit all, then it will be China, not the international community at large, which will shape the future of the digital domain," the report said, seemingly oblivious to its own self-exposure in blatantly admitting the true motive - dominating global cyberspace and curbing China's development.

The report as well as US moves to smear China actually reflect the US' anxiety over its decline in strength, Qin said.

"The US is not as confident as in years before," Qin told the Global Times. The US has to draw some other countries over to its side to attack and curb China, as it has realized that it can no longer rule the world alone, he added.

The slander campaign targeting China also shows the US' malicious intention of trying to divert the world's attention from its own evil deeds, noted Xu.

"In the digital world, the main security problems are the US' global cyberattacks and surveillance, and the main economic problems are the global monopoly of US technology and digital platforms," Xu said. "By establishing the image of China as a simulated enemy in the digital world, the US wanted to shift focus, relieving the pressure it faces from the condemnation from the international community."

"While claiming to value internet freedom, the US is a veritable 'digital totalitarian country' that uses the internet to spy on the leaders, businesses, and citizens of other countries, and even blatantly legalizes such deeds through law," Xu noted.

Therefore, China can adjust its international communication tactics, push back against slanders, and actively fight back, Xu told the Global Times. "We should recognize that the US-led West have widely applied information interference means to their propaganda, such as spreading online rumors and misinformation.