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Virtual signaling

China must respond to the challenges posed by the increasing cybersecurity cooperation among Quad members

By CAI CUIHONG and LI YUHUA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-04 07:38
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The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal dialogue mechanism comprising the United States, Japan, India and Australia. As the Joe Biden administration pushes ahead with its "Indo-Pacific" strategy, greater weight has been given to the Quad mechanism. Notably, with global cyberspace governance plagued by disorder and the proliferation of security issues, the Quad countries have ramped up their efforts in cybersecurity cooperation.

Since the Quad's launch in 2017, meetings have been elevated first to the ministerial level and later to the level of heads of state, with six senior working groups established, including the Quad Senior Cyber Group and the Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group. In addition, the role of the private sector in cybersecurity cooperation has also been enhanced.

Quad countries have expanded cooperation in areas such as cyber intelligence and information sharing, communication technology development and deployment, software security standards and practices, and the building of resilient supply chains. As the leader of this group, the US has been seeking to enhance strategic trust and foundation for military cooperation among the four nations, and to exclude China from cyberspace cooperation.

The Quad has engaged countries such as the Republic of Korea and Vietnam to form the "Quad plus", and collaborated with other US-led multilateral security mechanisms such as AUKUS, US-Japan-ROK trilateral relations, and NATO, thereby building a complex network of cooperation. Through these collaboration frameworks, the US has cemented its central role in the mechanisms, which helps it push for more flexible cooperation on related issues, thus forming a greater encirclement against China.

The enhanced cybersecurity cooperation of the Quad poses severe challenges to regional security and cyberspace governance as well as global connectivity.

First, it has exacerbated regional tensions and disrupted regional stability. The enhanced collaboration among the US, India, Japan and Australia in military intelligence and information sharing and the joint military drills including cyberattack and defense have strengthened the US' intervention in the "Indo-Pacific" region. Should a US-led "Indo-Pacific NATO" be formed, it will undermine the longstanding stability of the region, and threaten the regional and global security order.

Second, it will poison the environment of global cyberspace governance. Global cyberspace governance requires the concerted efforts of all countries. But Quad countries' cooperation in cybersecurity is essentially a pseudo multilateralism that is exclusive in nature. Rather than alleviating the global governance deficit in cyberspace, it will escalate competition among major countries and disrupt technological cooperation in the virtual realm, further turning cyber issues into political and security issues.

Third, it will fuel the trend of de-globalization and fragmentation of the global economy. The Quad countries' enhanced cooperation in building resilient supply chains and critical infrastructure is aimed at creating a technological and economic small clique with the US at the core. This will disrupt global supply chains and fragment technology standards, and increase the costs and risks of doing business, thereby impeding global economic growth. In addition, it will increase tensions in international relations and complicate global efforts to tackle common challenges such as climate change and public health crises.

Despite the strengthening of Quad cybersecurity cooperation, some impediments to it still exist.

First, the four countries within the grouping have divergent interests and concerns in many aspects. The US is pushing for Quad cooperation with the aim of implementing its "Indo-Pacific" strategy, thus maintaining its dominance in cyberspace. Japan closely follows the US, sometimes acting even more enthusiastically than the latter. India is seeking greater strategic autonomy, thus downplaying the military significance of the Quad. Australia is trying to repair its relations with China, and is therefore unwilling to fully toe the US line.

Second, the four countries vary considerably in cybersecurity capacity. With different starting points in cyberspace development, the four also have significant differences in investments in technology, talent and capital in the field. Even if they push forward cooperation through compromises and concessions, their disparities in development level will hinder the implementation of cybersecurity cooperation. For instance, India is lagging behind in cybersecurity development, making it difficult for the country to coordinate with the other Quad members.

Third, a question mark remains over the allies' trust in Washington. The track record of the US surveillance and eavesdropping on its allies has raised concerns over its credibility. After Donald Trump took office, the US has demanded its allies to take more responsibilities in global affairs, dampening the allies' confidence in the US commitment to their security.

Although the Biden administration has pledged to enhance cooperation with US allies, real inputs have been limited due to the international situation and domestic political strife. Moreover, the Russia-Ukraine crisis and Palestine-Israel conflict as well as the uncertainties in the US presidential election have cast further doubt over the US' commitment to its allies.

Nonetheless, the Quad attempts to form an anti-China bloc in cyberspace, which poses a grave threat to China's national security and development interests. China should take precautions in this regard.

First, China needs to closely monitor the Quad's latest moves on cybersecurity cooperation and address any spillover effects. The Quad has laid bare its ambition to draw Pacific island nations and Southeast Asian nations into its cybersecurity cooperation framework, which may escalate geopolitical tensions in China's neighborhood and further squeeze China's development space. China needs to keep a close eye on these developments, and communicate with regional countries in a timely manner.

Second, China should use its advantages to break the anti-China cyber alliance. Quad countries and other nations in the "Indo-Pacific "region have close political and economic ties with China, with many using China's telecommunications and cyber technologies. China should have an open and inclusive mind, and promote multilateral cooperation in cyberspace via platforms such as the Digital Silk Road to break up the loose anti-China alliance.

Last, China needs to enhance the capacity building of its cybersecurity system.

China should optimize cybersecurity policies and regulations, improve the cybersecurity mechanism, and raise national awareness of cybersecurity, especially in areas such as data security, information infrastructure, emerging technologies, and application security risk prevention. At the same time, the country needs to establish domestic industry alliances and technology partners, and push for the opening-up of industry standards and interoperability, thus raising the overall cybersecurity capacity.

Only by deepening international cooperation in cyberspace can all countries build an open, fair, just, and non-discriminatory digital environment, thus building a community with a shared future in cyberspace.


Cai Cuihong


Li Yuhua

Cai Cuihong is a professor at the Center for American Studies at Fudan University. Li Yuhua is a doctoral student at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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