Beijing is stacking international standards bodies with factions that care more about national loyalty than sound practice, experts say.
December 2, 2021 | By Patrick Tucker, Technology Editor | Defense One
“You may not know the International Telecommunication Union or the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, but they and similar bodies set security standards for the internet of today and tomorrow. Experts say Beijing has been stacking the boards of such groups to benefit China and undermine the rest of the world’s data privacy and information security.
That’s not the way those bodies are supposed to work. Their boards are intended to mediate between competing industry proposals in search of the best ideas for everyone. That’s the process that created technical standards for everything from DVDs to WiFi to 2G, 3G, 4G technology and so on.
“While the process is not completely apolitical, considering the stakes involved, the technical standardization process has been traditionally focused on technical, rather than commercial or political, arguments in debating the merits of a standard,” says a paper from the Asia Policy Institute published on Wednesday. “However, China’s increasing engagement in standards development, particularly given its top-down, state-centric approach to standardization, is changing the status quo.”
What does a changed status quo look like? Laura Bate, senior director at the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, recalled a moment from 2016. Members of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project were deciding between two proposals for encoding data in 5G gear, one from San Diego-based Qualcomm, the other from Huawei—a Chinese company suspected by Western intelligence agencies and others of helping Beijing spy on the world.
The representative from Lenovo, a Chinese maker of laptops, cast a vote for Qualcomm’s proposal—and soon faced an “epic backlash in China for being unpatriotic,” Bate said at a Thursday event hosted by Defense One.
The chastened company rep later changed the vote to Huawei’s proposal, and the company’s co-founder promised never again to vote against China’s preferred standard.
We both agree that Chinese companies should be united and must not be provoked by outsiders,” Liu Chuanzhi wrote.
In 2018, Chinese leader Xi Jinping launched the China Standards 2035 initiative, which explicitly seeks to dominate standards bodies.
“This approach includes placing Chinese nationals in senior leadership positions within the [standards development organizations]; increasing the representation of Chinese tech companies within these bodies; assuming leadership positions in secretariats, working groups, and technical subcommittees; and pushing Chinese companies to vote for Chinese proposals,” notes the Asia Policy Institute paper.
Bate said China aims to shape future standards for everything from quantum computing to 6G to even international norms around artificial intelligence along similar lines.”
Stacking the Deck: China’s Influence in International technology Standards Setting
CHAPTER 3: Transforming Global Governance and Exporting the China Model
“The CCP has not been shy about the ambition to have China play a central role in global affairs and to actively lead the reform of the international system. The Party’s approach to this goal appears to be a mix of grand strategy and opportunism. Xi Jinping describes a new era in which China is “moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind,” playing a leading role in reforming the international order by “contributing Chinese wisdom and strength to global governance.”31 -p.14 Link