The digital world, or cyberspace, is at a crossroads in its development. And not with respect to specific technologies, but with respect to state policy concepts regarding cyberspace and how and to what extent the state should influence it. The revelations of Edward Snowden were a jolt that has caused an avalanche of thoughts in many countries. And at the center of these thoughts are a single problem: how to maintain state sovereignty in an era of total digital transparency where there are methods of collecting information that in the past no one had even dreamed of.
The American concept of cyberspace cannot but be imperialistic. This means that the security of the U.S. becomes the point of reference for the behavior of all other countries and international organizations, to which the imperial "Center" may show "favor" by granting access to part of its capabilities, while demanding full submission in return.While previously this submission was expressed in the adoption of the culture, economy and currency of the "Center", now it is expressed in the requirement to acknowledge the dominance of American IT corporations on the domestic markets of other countries. Furthermore, it is implied that other countries are not to independently maintain their own cyber-resources, as the "supreme protector" has already taken care of everything. The idea of an "informational umbrella", as it were.
For a long time Europe has agreed with such logic, almost completely abandoning the expansion of its own capabilities in the digital world. This was encouraged by the fact that the socialist orientation of the ideologists of the European information society's architecture were eclectically overlaid on the overall neoliberal model of the European Union. However, the Snowden affair jerked the Europeans out of their sweet slumber and forced them to take a serious look around in search of adequate models for responding to American digital hegemony.
Surprisingly, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Chinese model, which the Europeans themselves have been ruthlessly criticizing for the past 20 years, is just such a model. Individual elements of its implementation in Europe could be seen as early as 2009-2010. At that time European governments openly confronted American IT corporations, in particular, Google and Microsoft. Each case was different (for example, for Germany and Greece it was connected with the Google Street View project, and for France, with attempts to digitize its library collections), but in each case the Europeans tried to create a barrier to the boundless U.S. presence on their territories. In 2011 a "virtual Schengen", obviously organized after the manner of China's "Golden Shield", was even discussed, but it didn't go any farther than generalities.
Apparently China's experience (in scholarly literature they call it "the East Asian experience of building an information society") will be increasingly sought after in the future by those countries which want to be subjects of international politics and not obedient performers of the "Center's" will.
The "Chinese model" is based first of all on the recognition that "universal values" are not all that universal. Over the millennia of its existence, each large civilization has developed its own inherent deep-seated codes which it is safe to call "national values" and which are always unique. For China, for example, these are Confucian values. However, the Chinese recognize the existence of various value systems and do not categorize countries whose value systems differ from their own as "barbarians", like the preachers of "universal values" in the West.
A second aspect is reliance on national production, which promotes economic growth on the one hand, and state security on the other. And this focus on "national production" can be seen in a very wide variety of production areas, from production of hardware (electronic parts) to production of ideas (content).
On the technical level, China has from the beginning taken a very careful approach to the development of the World Wide Web on its territory, rejecting the neoliberal paradigm "the market will adjust everything". In 2003 there were no more than 10 large networks in China which operated under the steady monitoring of the state. The rapid growth of the number of Internet cafes in the mid to late '90s meant that for several years (1999 to the early 2000s) this sphere was subjected to more serious state regulation.
Thanks to the consistent and thoughtful policy of supporting high-tech sectors of the economy, in China they have done what for a long time seemed impossible: they have forced American IT corporations out of the domestic market and now are actively buying them up (for example, Lenovo bought out IBM, and now it has its eye on Blackberry). Today such Chinese brands as ZTE or Huawei have become synonyms of success and power which are feared by all in the West.
In its content production policy, China holds to two simple principles.
Bloggers call the first principle "block and clone", which means "smart censorship". Its main distinction from "dumb censorship" is that the state, when blocking access to a foreign platform, immediately provides the possibility to use one just like it, but national.
This has proven to be true in relation to absolutely all popular mechanisms of the Internet, from search engines and video services to social networks and microblogs. But the number of users of the Chinese Internet (and this is over 600 million people) makes the very concept of a "global network" quite relative, as there exists a self-sufficient cluster which provides itself with everything it needs.
The second principle is to identify a set of key topics which, in the opinion of the Chinese leadership, could have a destabilizing effect on the country's life…
Such topics include information which contradicts the principles enshrined in the Constitution; threatens national security; reveals state secrets; undermines confidence in the government; erodes the unity of the state; damages its honor and interests; provokes ethnic hatred or discrimination; erodes the solidarity of the nation; could have negative consequences for state policy in the sphere of religion; spreads the cult of violence, debauchery, pornography, gambling, murder or terrorism or provokes crime; spreads rumors; disturbs the public order; undermines social stability; or violates the human rights enshrined in the Constitution. No one is likely to say that these topics do not in fact deserve heightened attention from the state.
Naturally, the pure form of such a model can only exist in certain sociopolitical conditions and in such a "refined" form is unlikely to be applicable to Europe. However, refracted through the European practice of building an information society and corrected after the revelations of Edward Snowden, the "Chinese model" could become the foundation for developing a new entity which will determine the future of cyberspace.
Now it is practically impossible to say what the traits of this new system will be, but it is already clear that the new model will rely more on national production, take the concept of "digital sovereignty" more seriously and perceive the new technological reality differently.
It is possible, albeit unlikely, that Europe will begin to be more attentive to that which it itself professes: respect for others' rights and traditions without trying to unify everything and everyone under the banner of "globalism". These are probably fairly distant prospects, but the fact that Germany and Brazil have suddenly found common ground in the UN and are advancing joint initiatives on the problems of cyberspace already says a lot…