The Geopolitics of Internet Governance – Towards “Digital Cold War” or “Digital Cooperation”?


The Geopolitics of Internet Governance – Towards “Digital Cold War” or “Digital Cooperation”?


Time: 2022/7/27 02:00-04:00PM
Venue: IEAT International Conference Center Meeting 8F Room 2
●      Chen, Vincent (Advisor,  NII Enterprise Promotion Association)

●      Lee, Chyungly (Professor, Institute of International Relation, NCCU)
●      Peng, Jui-Jen (Professor, Department of Political Science, Soochow University)
●      Huang, Kenny (CEO, TWNIC)
●      Liu, Da-Nien (Director, The Regional Development Study Center, Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research)

Session Details

Observed by Wolfgang Kleinwächter, a professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, the competition for Internet Governance models in 2021 has grown polarization. On one hand, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) promotes new agreements on strengthening the state’s control over the Internet.  On the other hand, the Biden Administration hosted “The Summit for Democracy” gathering more than 100 government leaders to talk about the approach to counter digital authoritarianism.

The panel invited various experts to address issues such as: with the high involvement of geopolitics and economic interests, will the global Internet governance regime lead to “Digital Cold War” or “Digital Cooperation”?  Taiwan has taken part in both “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” and “The Summit for Democracy”, but will the current international agenda affect Taiwan’s approach to Internet governance?


Like many other countries, Taiwan has moved its focus from manufacturing and goods trading to the digital economy.  Prof. Liu explained in his address that, there are three models of global digital trade norms: 1) multilateral system, such as the WTO, 2) free trade agreement (FTA) such as RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) and CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, 3) Joint declarations or initiatives, such as the Global Data Security Initiative proposed by China in 2020, Declaration for the Future of the Internet initiated by the US government, and Taiwan-US 21st Century Trade Initiative.  Among the three models, multilateral systems tend to be slow in progress, while FTAs seem to move faster and Joint declarations look the least specific.

In the future, global digital trade will be split into two camps led by the US-EU and China. Prof. Liu commented, because the US and Europe have less disagreement about the related issues and have the common goal of encouraging business innovation, it is expected that they will reach consensus in the digital trade.   Nethertheless, China will continue to leverage its market power to establish digital trade norms in line with China’s interests, and at the same time expand its digital economy opportunities.

Liu further suggested Taiwan should take its ICT manufacturing and semiconductor advantages and actively participate in the global digital economy negotiations, such as  DEPA, in order to have greater leverage between the two camps.

Dr. Kenny Huang gave his opinion by first citing the theory of “Thucydides’s Trap”.  The theory is used to describe an apparent tendency towards war when an emerging power threatens to displace an existing great power as a regional or international hegemon.  The rise of emerging powers and the stability of existing powers will determine the intensity of the trap and the probability of war. The theory also applies to the potential conflict between the US and China. The competition between the two counties may continue for a while, Dr. Huang commented. 

Huang then explained the rise of the global trading concept after World War I and II in the Bretton Woods Conference.  Global trading continued evolving, and more trade agreements were signed in the 1990s, resulting in many domestic regulations adjusted to meet the requirements of the international trade agreements. Conflicts between global efficiency and local rules occured. However, Internet Governance norms worked differently. “If we only talked about technical coordination such as IP address and domain name”, said Dr. Huang, “the Internet norm works very effectively since the Internet just doesn’t work if you violate it.”

TWNIC’s DNS RPZ (Response Policy Zone) service was mentioned as an example of the private sector-initiated norm.  Through the cooperation with DotAsia Organization, the service even extends its effectiveness overseas.

Dr. Peng, Jui-Jen addressed the issues from the perspective of digital sovereignty.  He believes that digital sovereignty is intangible, and it can be carried out by regulating the Internet platforms.  The implementation examples include EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Digital Service Act (DSA) and Digital Market Act (DMA). 

Dr. Peng believes that the Internet sovereignty impact can be enlarged. What Taiwan needs is an environment in which our digital sovereignty is not subject to foreign invasion.  He also believes that data is the core of digital sovereignty.  By sharing the data localization rules, Dr. Peng further elaborated on the status and legal obligations of gatekeepers in EU’s DMA. He lastly suggested that, 

Taiwan may accumulate the country’s influence in digital sovereignty by cooperating with the big platforms. In addition, Dr. Peng suggested, “Taiwan may also work with South Korea and Japan to form an open cloud space for exchanging non-sensitive data, and form a democratic digital sovereignty alliance to strengthen the island’s geopolitical strategic cooperation in Cyberspace.

Professor Chyungly Lee from the International Relations Research Center stated that governance may be shown in the forms of laws, rules and norms. The actors involved include both state and non-state actors.  The Internet geopolitical competition is currently dominated by the United States and China.  The United States wants to maintain its leadership in Internet technology, while China is a strong emerging star.

Professor Lee also observed that there have been many international initiatives in the field of Internet governance recently. Among the initiatives, the United States formed more value-based alliances, for example, the Declaration of Future Internet. There are five principles in the Declaration and the core is human rights.  The participants are mostly democratic countries.  Meanwhile, China is shifting from digital sovereignty to establishing international norms.  The country recently announced the establishment of the “World Internet Conference” international organization. The members include dictatorship governments and large tech companies, Lee foresees the conflict of interests in the combination.

From the international cooperation perspective, to take lead in the Internet governance models, the nation powers must not only expand their own power, but also ensure their allies get benefits as well.  Lastly, Professor Lee suggested that Taiwan may consider joining the Paris Call initiative in the near future.

Dr. Da-Nien Liu responded to the question raised from the floor asking if it is possible to create a new value-oriented political framework in the future.  He said, Geopolitics is not a new term, but it has become more prominent recently.  He took CPTPP as an example, it is a FTA with less geographical flavor.  However, it is still hard for China to join since the country’s Internet environment does not meet the requirements.  The hurdle for many countries to join regional trade agreements is that digital economy regulations must meet the high standards set by the United States and the European Union, especially in countries that do not have free internet access.

Professor Peng commented that geopolitics will not be limited to physical geography. For example, although Russia and Ukraine are far away from Taiwan, the war may have an associated geopolitical impact on Taiwan once China intervenes.

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