China introduces new cyber-security initiative, says it will not illegally collect data

China has long faced accusations of cyber espionage.

BEIJING - China announced an initiative to develop international standards for data security on Tuesday (Sept 8) and called on governments not to force companies to hand over user data.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a seminar in Beijing that the government has proposed a "Global Initiative on Data Security", inviting other countries to take part, adding that it would promote multilateralism in an area where a "certain country" has been bullying others.

This comes barely a month after United States President Donald Trump announced a "Clean Network" initiative, which seeks to ban from the US any Chinese technology deemed a security risk.

This could range from telecommunication companies to software companies and even apps.

"A certain country keeps making groundless accusations against others in the name of 'clean' network and used security as a pretext to prey on enterprises of other countries who have a competitive edge," Mr Wang said, without directly naming the US.

China's version of the programme would call on technology firms not to install "back doors" in their products and services, which could allow for illegal access to data.

Participants should also respect the sovereignty, jurisdiction and data policies of other member nations, while not requesting individual data without their permission.

He also said that participants would take "actions to prevent and put an end to activities that infringe upon personal information, oppose abusing infocomm technology to conduct mass surveillance against other states or engage in unauthorised collection of personal information".

Companies should not seek "illegitimate interests" by taking advantage of users' dependence, he said, adding that states should also not use cyber attacks to cripple key infrastructure or steal important data.

China has long faced accusations of cyber espionage and has in recent years come under fire from the US for installing communications infrastructure that might contain loopholes offering access to Beijing.

In particular, tech behemoth Huawei has borne the brunt of the backlash, having its high tech 5G infrastructure equipment banned in the US, India and several European countries.

Huawei has vehemently rejected suggestions of security lapses and insisted that it has no links to the government.

China tightly controls and censors the Internet in the country, and has for years restricted access to US Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.

In recent months, the Trump administration, citing national security concerns, has sought to ban video-sharing app TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-headquartered Bytedance.

Shortly before rolling out the data security programme, China had earlier sought international support for the initiative, reaching out to diplomats from several nations.

According to a memo seen by The Straits Times, Beijing said the initiative could provide a blueprint for a possible international standard.

"We hope that you can... publicly express your political support," said a briefing note Chinese diplomats provided to their foreign counterparts.

No further details have been unveiled about which countries have signed up for the initiative, what it would consist of and how it would be implemented.

While the initiative appears to be an immediate reaction to the US' "Clean Network" programme, analysts say there could be some level of irony in what China is opposing.

"The actions (China) says it opposes, there is ample evidence that it engages in those activities, so it doesn't oppose those activities when they are undertaken on its own terms," said Dr Samantha Hoffman, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute specialising in Chinese cyber security.

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