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US Clean Network initiative is “a dirty network”, China says

(ATF) China’s top leaders approved a scathing opinion piece in the People’s Daily that heavily criticises the USA’s Clean Network initiative. The People’s Daily is the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched the Clean Network programme in August, which he said was designed to “guard citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party”.

But the intent was likely greater than the explanation given at that time.

The Clean Network initiative was also a plan to sign up other countries and companies around the world to commit not to use Chinese technology, by explaining that it threatens Western democracies and other states.

Use of Huawei or ZTE telecom equipment would not be allowed if a nation state signed up to the Clean Network. In effect, this was creating two spheres of telecommunication networks – one dominated by China and one not.

In the months since, a range of European and Western nations have followed the American initiative by refusing or declining to use of Huawei’s 5G network equipment, although the reasons or excuses that states have given have varied.

The impact on Huawei’s 5G network business has been substantial and this has upset China’s leaders.

‘US networks compliant in large-scale surveillance’

The People’s Daily said: “The US has trumpeted and peddled the so-called ‘clean network’ plan everywhere, discrediting Chinese internet companies on the basis of [a] lack of facts. The US so-called ‘clean network’ is a discriminatory, exclusive and politicised ‘dirty network’,” the paper said.

The official author of the opinion piece was a researcher who is the secretary-general of the Cyberspace International Governance Research Center at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies.

The commentary said: “The essence of the US government’s so-called ‘clean network’ plan is to implement ‘network surveillance’ in the name of network security. Chinese internet companies always strictly abide by local laws and regulations when conducting business around the world, and pay attention to the concerns of the government and users on network security, and have been widely recognised by the international community. 

“Chinese Internet companies support a more secure development model, which is conducive to the independence of countries in the field of cybersecurity. On the other hand, American internet companies often become accomplices in the large-scale global surveillance carried out by American intelligence agencies, seriously endangering the national security of all countries.”

The Clean Network aims to address the long-term threat to data privacy, security, human rights and principled collaboration posed to the free world from ‘malign’ authoritarian actors. It is rooted in “internationally accepted digital trust standards. It represents the execution of a multi-year, all-of-government, enduring strategy, built on a coalition of trusted partners, and based on rapidly changing technology and economics of global markets.”

‘The US is the real Matrix’

Whilst neither China or the USA have particularly have clean hands in gathering citizens’ data surreptitiously, as this battle plays out online in the near future there is likely be two separate communication environments and users will have to join one or the other, as technological advances make it almost impossible to live a normal life without being network-enabled.

The People’s Daily report said “countries such as the ‘Five Eyes Alliance’ require companies to set up “backdoors” in encrypted applications. This showed that the United States was the real “Matrix.”

“The so-called ‘Clean Network’ plan is to continue to control global cyberspace and prevent Chinese companies from obstructing US global surveillance, thereby facilitating US intelligence agencies to continue to steal online information and endanger other countries’ networks safety.”

Neither spokespeople from the US or China were available for comment, due to staff shortages and limited availability caused by Covid-19.

In an online statement on the Clean Network site by Secretary of State Pompeo, it says: “Untrusted IT vendors will have no access to US State Department systems. We will follow the letter of the law to ensure that we have a clean path for all 5G network traffic coming into all of our facilities. Period. We will keep doing all we can to keep our critical data and our networks safe from the Chinese Communist Party.

Many major telecoms firms and countries have already joined the ‘clean network’, as illustrated on its website.

Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s Federal Chancellor, said: “Austria strongly believes in the importance of secure and safe networks as the backbone of our digital age. The timely implementation of the EU 5G toolbox is an important step to reach strategic digital autonomy of the European Union and Austria supports all efforts of our partners like the US to establish objective criteria to safeguard network security around the globe.”


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Chris Gill

With over 30 years reporting on China, Gill offers a daily digest of what is happening in the PRC.


AF China Bond