China’s Vision for Cyber Sovereignty and the Global Governance of Cyberspace

China’s Vision for Cyber Sovereignty and the Global Governance of Cyberspace

by Adam Segal
August 25, 2020

This essay explores China’s vision for the global governance of cyberspace, and the concept of cyber sovereignty in particular, and assesses the impact of Chinese domestic policy and diplomacy on the internet.

Executive Summary


In pursuit of tighter controls over information, cybersecurity and technological independence, and international influence, China has become more active in its efforts to shape the global internet. Beijing’s efforts to influence the global governance of cyberspace are organized around the concept of cyber (or internet) sovereignty (wangluo zhuquan). China’s cyber sovereignty efforts have both a domestic and an international component and will result in an internet that will be less open and free. Yet a growing embrace of sovereignty is not primarily the result of Chinese efforts but rather widespread disillusionment with the spread of disinformation, threats to privacy, and concentration of economic and political power by big technology firms—problems that appear to spring from an unregulated or underregulated internet.

  • Beijing has strong motivations for shaping the global governance of cyberspace, and these are likely to remain fairly consistent and persistent.
  • While the idea of cyber sovereignty is attractive to many countries wanting more control over their domestic internet, the apparent efficacy of Chinese regulations and the extended reach and capabilities of Chinese technology firms are more effective tools of Beijing’s influence than its diplomacy.
  • Given the widespread disenchantment with an unregulated internet, any successful defense of a free and open internet will require not only confronting China but also re-engaging international organizations and broader consensus across liberal democracies about online free speech and privacy.

Adam Segal is the Ira A. Lipman Chair in Emerging Technologies and National Security and Director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.