WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today published a new report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff on China’s digital authoritarianism. Commissioned by Ranking Member Menendez, the report serves as the culmination of a comprehensive Committee investigation into China’s efforts to develop, export, and institutionalize a new, authoritarian governance model for the digital domain.
At a virtual briefing to publish the report’s findings, Senator Menendez was joined by Libby Liu, former Chief Executive Officer of the Open Technology Fund and former President of Radio Free Asia, Xiao Qiang, Research Scientist at the UC Berkeley School of Information and Founder and Editor-in-Chief of China Digital Times, and Andrew Imbrie, Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. Jodi Herman, former SFRC Staff Director, moderated the discussion.
“China’s concerted effort to develop, expand, export, and institutionalize digital authoritarianism as the future governance model of the digital domain represents a fundamental political, economic, and security concern for the United States, our allies and partners, and the international community at large,” said Ranking Member Menendez. “As this report lays out, China is seeking to exploit new and emerging technologies to cultivate digital authoritarianism along multiple paths and is utilizing its entire policy toolkit, including political, economic, diplomatic, and coercive means, to shape the digital domain in its desired image. If successful, China – and not the United States and other like-minded nations – will be writing the future of cyberspace.”
Entitled “The New Big Brother: China and Digital Authoritarianism,” the report is the latest installment in a series of Committee Minority reports commissioned by Ranking Member Menendez to examine the most pressing foreign policy challenges facing our nation, as well as to assess the Trump Administration’s failure to protect and harness our nation’s diplomatic and security architecture.
Published against the backdrop of Beijing’s recent passage of its “national security” law for Hong Kong to crack down on pro-democracy protestors, and amid the Chinese government’s ongoing human rights abuses against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, the report takes a deep dive into Beijing’s exploitation of information and communications technologies, products and services to surveil, repress, and manipulate its own people as well as foreign populations.
“The highest priority for us as the United States is to build up our alliances with people that share our values because the CCP has been very effective in dividing and conquering the like-minded democracies that we live in and support. How can humans have any dignity if they are robbed of their individuality and their basic human rights?” added Liu. “Whenever they exercise the censorship and surveillance and blockages of people using technologies that the Chinese government has financially backed, underneath that action is an entire world of data that is all being vacuumed into an authoritarian government who is determined to create a social credit system."
The investigation conducted by SFRC Democratic Staff offers new insights about how China is leveraging new technologies to assert increased control over its population and strengthening its ties with other nations around the globe. The report underscores how China’s government employs facial recognition technology and big data analysis tools to identify, discriminate, incarcerate, and “re-educate” Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, creating a police state that flouts basic human rights and civil liberties. China is not just using these tools at home; it is also working to export its high-tech tools and authoritarian principles throughout the globe. The report concludes: “If left unchecked, China, not the U.S. and our allies, will write the rules of the digital domain, opening the doors for digital authoritarianism to govern the Internet and associated technologies.”
“China's developing digital authoritarianism has not only strengthened the CCP’s rule over 1.4 billion Chinese people, it has also created systemic competition with the United States and other democracies. At its core, this competition is over the value of basic human freedom and dignity,” said Xiao Qiang.
"The United States needs comprehensive strategies that leverage the ingenuity and strength of its broad network of democratic allies and partners in facing the China challenge. These countries are more than unique assets in this area; they are asymmetric ones," added Andrew Imbrie.
The full report may be found HERE.
The Principal Findings and Recommendations Pullout may be found HERE.
The Senator’s remarks as delivered may be found HERE.