Global Times | 2013-11-7 19:58:01
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According to World Bank estimates, India and China together account for more than 700 million Internet users. Citizens in both countries have embraced the digital sphere enthusiastically, and mobile phones and the Internet are the preferred platforms for anything and everything, from expressing opinions to conducting business.
Indian and Chinese stakes in cyber governance are already significant, and are only likely to increase as both continue connecting even the most rural hinterlands, which still suffer from lack of efficient physical connectivity.
Much future global wealth generation will be deeply integrated with the online sphere on account of access to new markets, online supply chains, services and Internet-based financial flows. Hence, India and China, as they seek to raise the incomes of their citizens, will need to transform into sustainable and secure digital economies. Digital governance, norms and rules, and International conventions must see India and China as rule-makers and not rule-takers.
The West, in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, is witnessing a new wave of support for discussing and negotiating a certain “code of conduct” for this global commons.
Although the current discussion is more on privacy and surveillance, there are other aspects that must also be vigorously debated.
New Delhi and Beijing must take the lead and articulate their positions and core interests on these issues, and see to it that they are addressed adequately. It is in no one’s interest to see a “virtual gridlock” and the World Wide Web becoming a “World Divide Web.”
The region’s success and prosperity are so closely linked to its successful integration that a divided digital domain may be detrimental to the region.
In fact, both India and China must learn from their predicament of dealing with the border legacy, and should ensure that discussions on cyberspace are not held prisoner to old notions of boundaries and rigid ideals of statehood.
The common prosperity of the two nations is linked to the digital future, and even lifeline provisions such as social security schemes, health and education among others are likely to be delivered through virtual means. Therefore, it is important for India and China to ensure that the world does not witness the birth of “digital sovereignty” where states contest, or of “digital capitalism” where commercial interests prevent this medium from being a global commons.
There are certain historic biases already. Technology, services and access reside with Western corporations and in Western capitals. The Internet must remain technology and geography-agnostic. Any global architecture for both hardware and software must ensure this.
Despite these converging objectives, the conversations between India and China on this subject, much like in other sectors, have been limited and impeded by suspicions and historic security concerns. It is time that the two nations go beyond these.
China seeks to be an influential player in telecommunications and the digital economy in India. And Indian IT companies are looking for a more hospitable environment.
A positive atmosphere and confidence building are a must for realizing these ambitions. In fact, Indian and Chinese companies can jointly lead the way in providing hardware and software solutions to developed and developing economies across the value chain.
To create an environment conducive to business and in order to shape an Asian discourse on cyber governance and cyber security, the two governments must seriously consider the following ideas.
One possibility is to create “cyber hot lines” between nodal agencies, such as between the Computer Emergency Response Teams in the two countries. They should also establish mechanisms for threats and vulnerability reporting and sharing information on gateways and access codes where required.
The two sides can also discuss responses and solutions to counter hacking and malware that threaten economic operations and businesses between and among parties in the two countries. Experiences on protecting critical infrastructure should also be shared. And, finally, they need to undertake joint development of low-cost digital access to, and affordable technologies for, the underprivileged segments of society.