China has announced its ambition to play a greater role in setting the rules for the international digital economy and criticised the United States for trying to use the international order to contain it, SCMP reported.

In a forum on international laws in Beijing on Friday, foreign vice-minister Xie Feng said: “China is willing to work with all parties to explore the development of high-standard digital economic and trade rules, implementing green, low-carbon and sustainable development [standards] … so as to inject new energy into international economic and trade rules.”

Without explicitly pointing to the US, Xie told the meeting of officials and legal scholars that “certain countries” had tried to intimidate others by imposing their own “family law and gang rules” onto others in the name of “advocating a rules-based international order”, SCMP explained.

As a relative latecomer to the digital economy, which largely lacks a unified rules-based order, China has emerged as a major player in the field and regards technologies such as big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence as important tools to map out its economic future, SCMP added.

According to Financial Times, recently Beijing has pushed through reams of regulations and policies designed to reinforce China’s data security, tighten its control over huge volumes of data used in governing the country, boosting the economy and ordering people’s lives. 

Such steps constitute a crucial part of the vision of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, to construct what some analysts call a “techno-authoritarian superpower” in which people are monitored and directed to an unprecedented degree through the agency of government-controlled cyber networks, surveillance systems and algorithms.

China’s tough regulations on data transfers and restrictions on foreign digital services have encountered increasing scrutiny from the West, while the US has repeatedly accused China of misappropriating foreign technologies, SCMP reported.

Earlier, Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said in an opening speech that Beijing would continue to push forward the Belt and Road Initiative, an international infrastructure and investment programme that is widely criticised for spreading Chinese influence and saddling countries with unsustainable debt.

However, Chen said further efforts were needed in “international rules-setting in emerging areas such as the digital economy and encouraging the use of safe and secure digital means to promote cross-border trade facilitation”.

With a vast digital economy, representing nearly 40 percent of total gross domestic product last year, China is witnessing growing concerns that the country will be sidelined globally as the US works with its allies to contain the country’s growing influence.

In recent months, China has applied to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement and Comprehensive and the Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which have some of the world’s tightest standards on digital trade, particularly concerning intellectual property protection and data controls. China is therefore likely to face a series of obstacles before either application can succeed.

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