China launches global data security initiative as U.S. pressure on its tech firms grows

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the opening ceremony of the fifth annual meeting of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank via video link, in Beijing, capital of China, July 28, 2020.
Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — China launched a global data security initiative on Tuesday outlining principles that should be followed in areas from personal information to espionage.

The initiative, announced by Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing, comes as the U.S. continues to put pressure on China’s largest technology companies and convince countries around the world to block them. 

China’s initiative has eight key points including not using technology to impair other countries’ critical infrastructure or steal data, and making sure service providers don’t install backdoors in their products and illegally obtain user data.

Wang also said the initiative looks to put an end to activities that “infringe upon personal information” and oppose using technology to conduct mass surveillance against other states.

Companies should also respect the laws of host countries and stop coercing domestic firms to store data generated overseas in their own territory, the initiative added.

Anyone signing up to the pledge should also respect the sovereignty, jurisdiction and governance of data of other states and avoid asking companies or individuals located in other countries to provide data without permission. 

Many of the points in China’s data initiative address some of the Washington’s accusations.  

For example, one point in the initiative asks companies to respect the laws of host countries and not send data obtained overseas to a firm’s own territory. 

… a certain country keeps making groundless accusations against others in the name of ‘clean’ network and used security as a pretext to prey on enterprises of other countries who have a competitive edge.
Wang Yi
China’s Foreign Minister

Wang took a swipe at the U.S. in his speech when he announced the initiative.

“Bent on unilateral acts, a certain country keeps making groundless accusations against others in the name of ‘clean’ network and used security as a pretext to prey on enterprises of other countries who have a competitive edge,” he said. “Such blatant acts of bullying must be opposed and rejected.”

Last month, the U.S. unveiled its “Clean Network” initiative, a program aimed at “safeguarding the nation’s assets including citizens’ privacy and companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.” 

The U.S. State Department says more than 30 countries have joined, but did not name them. Some companies are also on board its program. 

Meanwhile, Washington has been upping the pressure on Chinese technology firms. In August, the U.S. amended a rule that looked to effectively cut Huawei off from key semiconductor supplies. And in the same month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning transactions with TikTok owner ByteDance and WeChat owner Tencent. 

The U.S. has also accused China’s technology companies of posing national security threats by collecting user data and sending them back to Beijing. Companies including Huawei and ByteDance have denied those allegations. 

This is a developing story. Please check back soon for updates.

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