The Party in Cyberspace: China’s Digital Ecosystem


This week, Jordan speaks with Graham Webster, a China digital economy fellow and coordinating editor of the DigiChina project at New America. He was previously a senior fellow and lecturer at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center. The two talked about Graham’s work at DigiChina, artificial intelligence in China and its complex legal infrastructure, the facts (and fiction) behind China’s controversial social credit system, and the potential for a new cold war between the U.S. and China.

What to listen for on this week’s ChinaEconTalk:

10:23: “If the Chinese government wants to step on Huawei or somebody to get access to data, they’re not going to need this particular provision of law to do it. I think it’s a similar case with VPNs and these cross-border data rules. The pretty clear intent behind these rules is to expand on an increasingly detailed regime for protecting Chinese peoples’ data from abuse by companies or cyber criminals or just breaches due to bad security practices. It could be read in a way that would make VPNs problematic, but there are already other sets of regulations that make VPNs kind of problematic under Chinese law… From my perspective, this would be a very strange way for the Chinese government to try to cut down on VPNs, when they could just go at it directly and say it’s a violation of the principle of cybersovereignty.”

32:59: “In the end, we’re having this global discussion and people around the world are realizing how unaccountable various institutions and businesses are when they use automation. And there’s both real things going on in China, especially in Xinjiang, and a bunch of maybe slightly exaggerated or imagined things going on that capture people’s imaginations about what could go wrong… I really would like it for people to be better informed about the realities of, for example, social credit because — my [former] colleague Jeremy Daum likes to say sometimes: ‘There are plenty of actual Chinese government offenses against human rights and against the dignity and well-being of Chinese citizens; we don’t need to invent other ones. We should focus on what’s actually happening.’”

This podcast was edited and produced by Jason MacRonald.