China Obliged by Its ‘Internet Sovereignty’ Policy to Aid U.S. Against North Korea


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

Last week in The WorldPost we published a piece by China’s Internet czar, Lu Wei, who argued for “cyber sovereignty,” or “Internet sovereignty.”

According to this view that China is robustly promoting worldwide, the Internet should operate under the laws and rules of the given nation-state across whose territory information is transmitted.

Lu also wrote that “It is the essence of the development of the Internet that the Internet should bring peace and security to humans [and] should deny access to criminals and terrorists.”

Internet sovereignty works both ways: If China wants its rules respected in cyberspace, it also has to respect the rules of the U.S. and other nation-states which, like China, outlaw criminal use of the Internet and threats of 9/11-type terror — such as those North Korean-sponsored hackers aimed against Sony and any Americans who might have summoned the courage to go to the cinema to watch “The Interview,” which lampoons North Korea’s leader.

Citing American intelligence sources, the New York Times reported on Sunday that the Sony hacking attacks were “routed through China” and thus any counterattack on North Korea “would impinge on Chinese sovereignty.”

By the logic of Lu Wei, and by his declaration against the use of Internet for criminal activity and terrorist threats, China is thus obliged to aid the U.S. in denying North Korea access to the means of launching the kind of attacks it has on Sony and America’s moviegoing audiences.

The case for action by China is even stronger if a report in The Daily Beast by Michael Daly is proven true. Daly claims that North Korean hackers are housed at places such as the Chilbosan Hotel in Shenyang, which is jointly owned by China and North Korea.

I know from many personal conversations with Chinese strategists that they are fed up with North Korea, a sentiment echoed earlier this month by Lt. General Wang Hongguang, who wrote in the official Global Times that “China has cleaned up the D.P.R.K.’s [North Korea’s] mess too many times. But it doesn’t have to do that in the future.” Expressing a view I’ve often heard expressed in Beijing about North Korea, he also said “If an administration isn’t supported by the people, ‘collapse’ is just a matter of time.” And, he added, China is not anyone’s savior if they are bound to collapse.

China’s leaders need to look hard at the “Chinese Dream” they are trying to realize for their country and decide if that dream rests more on cooperation at this defining moment with the world’s other largest economy, the United States, or on an absurd and outdated allegiance to the bizarre and historically obsolete feudal regime of the Kim family in Pyongyang.

A new rules-based order for the 21st century — in which China is a leading partner — will not be conjured up in some academic seminar room at the Central Party School in Beijing or at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. It will be forged by necessity in decisive moments for China’s leaders like this one.