In the latest of a slew of China-directed policy moves, President Trump has compelled the sale of TikTok. Though this may seem like yet another effort to “get tough” on China, it does just the opposite.
Around the world, there is a battle underway for the future of the global technological order. By forcing the sale of the prominent social media app, Trump is putting the U.S. on the wrong side.
As China has become increasingly authoritarian, particularly under the leadership of Xi Jinping, it has become ever more reliant on digital tools to control its people and protect the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In an effort to manage the information the Chinese people consume, the country’s Internet is closed, with many foreign websites banned. This allows the party to shape a favorable national narrative and suppress views critical of the state.
The Chinese government has erected a massive domestic surveillance apparatus, nowhere more chilling than in the western province of Xinjiang, where it uses cutting-edge tech platforms to oppress a Muslim minority population. Chinese companies export similar digital platforms that may help other illiberal states to replicate this Orwellian system and consolidate their own grip on power. On the global stage, the Chinese government advocates a concept called “cyber sovereignty,” which places the state in control of the flow of information. And if foreign tech companies want to operate in China, the CCP forces them to play by China’s rules.
For all practical purposes, China’s Internet and other information systems are closed, and there is every indication that the CCP intends to keep them that way. When Beijing spreads its practices by systematically exporting digital surveillance technologies to authoritarians and winning international support for its “cyber sovereignty” concept, it is sharing with illiberal states the power to close off their own data environments.
The U.S. once aspired to a free and open global Internet, but the refinement of China’s brand of digital authoritarianism has made America’s vision unattainable for broad swaths of the global population. Instead, the world is moving toward a “splinternet” in which democracies permit the free flow of information while autocracies subjugate it to state control, sequestering themselves from the outside world and surveilling their own people to keep their regimes in power.
The dangers of tech-enabled repression are not confined to authoritarian states, however, and the U.S. and other democracies are imperiled by the spread of China’s approach. American prosperity requires mutually beneficial commerce, market access, and the exchange of people that allow the country to retain its innovative edge; its national security requires cooperation with allies overseas, including in the digital realm; and all democratic political systems rely on the exchange of information and ideas.
Indeed, since the early days of the republic, the U.S. has sought to prevent a foreign power from dominating the globe in ways that would cut off America’s access and influence, therefore jeopardizing its security and prosperity. China is showing that domination no longer just comes in the form of territorial conquest, …read more