U.S. Must Lead on International Tech Standards to Counter Chinese Influence: Raimondo

Raimondo’s comments come after the election of an American to head the UN’s telecom regulator.

U.S. Must Lead on International Tech Standards to Counter Chinese Influence: Raimondo
Screenshot of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., November 30, 2022 – Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Wednesday called for strong American leadership on international technology governance in opposition to expanding Chinese influence.

China is attempting to “game the global system” by advocating international tech standards that favor “authoritarian standards and values,” Raimondo said in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Such efforts not only disadvantage American companies, the secretary argued, but threaten the free flow of information and data privacy.

“In recent years, China has purposefully and aggressively assumed leadership positions in several important international tech standard-setting bodies,” Raimondo said, endorsing American collaboration with allies against China’s aggression.

Raimondo’s comments come after American Doreen Bogdan-Martin was in September elected secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union, the telecom regulator of the United Nations. Bogdan-Martin defeated a Russian challenger to the applause of American officials and experts.

Last month, Commerce moved to prohibit the export to China of certain chips necessary for supercomputers and to prevent other countries from providing China with certain semiconductors made with American technology. The Chips and Science Act, signed into law this summer, intends to incent the domestic production of supply chain products, including semiconductor chips, which are traditionally imported from Asia.

Establishing digital governance framework difficult

Although there is wide international discussion of digital governance, there isn’t yet a comprehensive global regulatory framework. According to an expert panel speaking at Princeton University on Tuesday, the establishment of such a framework is difficult due to regional variation in attitudes toward digital governance and markets and power imbalances between developed and developing nations.

There are three primary theaters of digital governance, said Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America and professor emerita at Princeton University.

First, American digital markets are freer than those of the European Union and China, she said. Across the Atlantic, the EU has, with such regulatory schemes as the General Data Protection Regulation, Digital Services Act, and Digital Markets Act, intervened heavily in digital commerce with the stated goal of protecting competition as well as the privacy and safety individuals. Then there’s Russia and China, which are far more authoritarian than the America or the EU, Slaughter said.

The panel’s moderator, Candace Rondeaux, director of the Planetary Politics Initiative at New America, said less developed countries often lack the knowledge and technology necessary to compete globally. Slaughter argued that such countries, like Kenya, are often reticent to accept international standards that they lack the power to influence.

“From first principles…I want there to be a broadly global, open, secure, equitable, and accountable internet,” Slaughter said, but recognized her perspective might shift if she were a member of the “Kenyan or any other government that really doesn’t have either access or any ability to make these rules.”

Slaughter predicted eventual global agreement on basic, security-based protocols, but said “it may take decades before we get to anything that really looks like an identifiable global regime.”

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