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PARPCC #14 - China, the world and data

PARPCC #14 - China, the world and data

Panda, Rice Alcohol and PCC

Panda, Rice Alcohol and PCC is a column of Camille Brugier, aimed at introducing scientific articles to a wider audience. His publications can be found on his thread Twitter.

At a time when many Western democracies are advising against, or even prohibit the installation of Chinese applications – in particular Tiktok et Wechat – on the devices of state agents, we see that the storage, the sale and transfer of data across national borders has become a central subject of cooperation, and competition, between the great powers.

China, the world and data

First of all, it should be remembered that data has two characteristics of its own: first of all, their use is infinite over time (unlike oil or rare earths for example which are consumable) ; then they are non exclusives, namely that it is sometimes difficult to prevent individuals or institutions who are not recipients of this data from having access to it. In this, data is a special commodity on the international scene.

The author explains that the diversity in the type of personal data governance around the world creates two distinct problems for China in its foreign relations:

First, China encounters difficulties with other States regarding the impact that its mode of data governance has on those who work with it. For instance, Chinese cybersecurity law, applied since July 2017, requires companies operating in China to store data acquired in the Chinese market on servers located in China. This same law also allows China to ask Tik Tok to store its data acquired in the United States on American soil., access to this data in the event that it considers that its national security is threatened. If this law increases the control that China has over the transfer of data on its territory, it also increases the risks faced by actors collaborating with Chinese actors (data protection, etc.).

A related problem is that of trust between consumers and businesses that take, use and store data. For the latter, it's a real dilemma: they work within the legal framework set by the Chinese state, but at the same time they must be credible to the consumer to prevent them from looking elsewhere. This subject is particularly important for Chinese companies like Tik Tok or Huawei whose links with the Party allow them on the one hand to have an advantageous position on the national territory. (financing, privileged access to subsidies), but this same proximity prevents their development on foreign markets. They must therefore spare the goat and the cabbage. This problem is not specific to companies whose headquarters are located in an authoritarian regime like China since large tech companies like Google, Facebook or Apple have often granted requests for access to data from democracies that requested it – against the interests of their consumers. However, Chinese companies are particularly in the sights on this subject in their exploitation of Western markets.. Their right to exist there is often put in the balance.

See Also

Finally, Liu Lizhi's article poses the more general problem power indicators in an era where data is omnipresent – and in particular the use of GDP. In effect, he explains that even though Wechat makes life much easier for its users, these changes cannot be evaluated in their entirety by the usual economic indicators given that the service provided is not paid for by the consumer.

Reference : Liu Lizhi (2021), «The Rise of Data Politics: Digital China and the World”, Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol.56, pp. 45-67.

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