Challenges to Cyber Sovereignty and Response Measures

Publication type Article
Status Published
Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Belt and Road Research Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Address: 3, Zhangzizhonglu Str., Beijing 100732, People’s Republic of China
Journal nameMirovaia ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia
EditionVolume 64 Issue 2

With the development of the Internet, it has gradually become an indispensable infrastructure for all countries in the world. Cyber security issues have been emerging in various countries recently, and countries around the world are beginning to build their own cyber security systems. The origin of all cyber security activities come from the “Cyber sovereignty”. “Sovereignty” refers to the supreme and exclusive power of administration over matters within a certain jurisdiction. “Cyber sovereignty” is a natural extension of national sovereignty in the cyber space. There are different opinions on the cyber security building. When the meaning of “Internet freedom” is significant, we believe that the words “cyber sovereignty” are the first and foremost in the cyber security system building. And cyber sovereignty itself is a foundation of all corresponding activities. Theoretically, the cyber space has no boundaries, but legally, it is not out of reach of law. China is a staunch supporter and advocate of cyber sovereignty. At present, cyber sovereignty faces many challenges. In order to meet them, it is necessary to study the future cyber sovereignty (security) with emerging countries involved. It is impossible for any country to get absolute security. Emphasizing the role of cyber sovereignty in the cyber security building does not mean shutting down the cyber and secluding the country from the outside world. The international community should build a new cyber governance order based on mutual respect for cyber sovereignty and sovereign equality. Shared governance should be the future of cyber sovereignty.

Keywordscyber sovereignty, cyber security, cyber governance, challenge, risk, response measures
Publication date29.03.2020
Number of characters45381
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1 With the rapid development and application of network information technology, the Internet has already become a necessary basic factor for the survival of the peoples and an indispensable infrastructure for all countries in the world1. It has become the fifth dimension in addition to land, sea, air and sky. Network technology has been widely used in the management of political, economic, social, military and other aspects, and the cyber is seen as the “neural system” on which sovereign states depend for survival and development. At the same time, events such as cyber attacks, cyber espionage, cyber surveillance and information leakage emerge one after another, and all countries are speeding up the construction of their respective cyber and information security protection systems. 1. Hillary Clinton once called communication networks a “new nervous system for our planet” [1].
2 The mutual recrimination between Russia and the U.S. that Russia supposedly interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election appeared clearly as a historic event to underline the struggle between big powers over cyber security and cyber sovereignty. Although the cyber has no boundaries, the cyber infrastructure does have boundaries. Internet information can go beyond a country, but the cyber is not a place out of the reach of law. Although the cyber belongs to a virtual world, actors on the network (including individuals, companies, political parties, etc.) are citizens and organizations of a particular country in real life, and are subject to the rule of laws and regulations of the country. Therefore, the development of the cyber should also be subject to a certain rule. The management of this development is essentially a matter of a country’s internal affairs. The right of such management is a natural extension of national sovereignty in cyberspace in the Internet era, which is now receiving more and more attention from states.


4 The concept of “sovereignty” of modern countries is derived from the corresponding concept as defined by the Westphalian System2. In this context, the state sovereignty refers to the supreme and exclusive power of administration over matters within a certain jurisdiction [2]. This kind of power contains four basic elements, namely people, land, resources and political system [3]. The long-standing norms governing state behavior in peacetime also apply to cyberspace [4]. Naturally, the Five Basic Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, namely respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, sovereign equality and mutual benefit, which apply to relations between nations, also work in cyberspace [5]. 2. Jean Bodin from France was the first who demonstrated the concept of “sovereignty” in the history of human thought; the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius defined “sovereignty” as follows: “a country is said to have sovereignty when it is not subject to the control of any other country in handling its internal affairs”; the Westphalian System defined norms in international relations based on “equality” and “sovereignty”; the UN Charter and related laws established the supremacy of national sovereignty in post-war international relations.
5 Thus, cyber sovereignty is based on national sovereignty, just like territorial sea rights. It is the extension and embodiment of national sovereignty in cyberspace. Cyber sovereignty in the Internet era means that each country has the supreme authority for the management of cyberspace within its own territory, and it inherits the basic elements, basic rights and basic principles of national state sovereignty.


7 Similar to national sovereignty, cyber sovereignty also has four basic elements: the cyberspace formed by the information and communication technology (ICT) system, equivalent to the territory of cyberspace (the sovereign network); the subjects who operate the data, equivalent to the population of cyberspace; the signal transmitted by the information and communication technology system, equivalent to the resources of cyberspace; the “activity rules”, equivalent to the cyberspace regime.
8 The cyber sovereignty rights are the following.
  1. Right to cyber independence. This is an important manifestation of cyber sovereignty: a country's cyber system is completely independent, and it is not subject to the control of any other country or organization in terms of the domestic cyber infrastructure construction, data storage3, operation rules and application technology. However, in the actual development of Internet, the existing network relies on the root domain name resolution system, which directly affects the right for network independence to a certain extent.
  2. Right to cyber equal sharing. That is, regardless of their size, all countries' cybers are equal and have the right for interconnection and information sharing. For example, cybers with the domain name “.cn” are equal to the cybers with the domain name “.ru”, and they are all entitled to interconnection and information resources sharing. The inequality in cyber resources owned by different countries shall not lead to inequality in cyber status or resource sharing. In terms of global Internet governance, all countries enjoy equal status and equal rights, one country has one vote, regardless of the size of its cyber.
  3. Right to cyber self-defense. That is, all countries have the right to protect their own cybers from external attack and take measures to protect their own cyber sovereignty when being attacked. One of the measures is to defend the “sovereign cyber” by building “cyber frontier defense” to prevent and resist attacks from abroad; on the other hand, it is necessary to clarify the duties and functions of national cyber security defense forces in defending a national network infrastructure and important information systems. And, when necessary, national cyber security defense forces should be given full play in protecting the sovereignty of cybers.
  4. Right to cyber jurisdiction. Countries have the supreme jurisdiction over their own cyber infrastructure, cyber systems, data and their operating rules. At present, countries are in fact exercising jurisdiction over cybers within their respective territories. To define cyberspace jurisdiction, it is necessary to first define “sovereign cyber”, which is the “information and communication technology facilities providing network and information services within the territory” [6] as has been agreed by countries on the scope of cyber jurisdiction. This is also the consensus among countries on the cyber management. Therefore, a country can determine its own cyber management mechanism as well as business model, business content and related penalties for the main Internet operators. In the process of implementation, it can be expressed in forms of the ownership of cyber infrastructure, administration of the Internet, management of network culture, and the power to formulate and enforce laws and regulations, etc. in cyberspace.
3. In mid-November 2016, the social network site LinkedIn was blocked in Russia as an example of Russia's exercise of its network sovereignty in response to the violation of the requirement to store Russian citizens’ personal data on its territory.

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