China’s Law-Based Cyberspace
Governance in the New Era
The State Council Information Office of
the People’s Republic of China
First Edition 2023
Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd, Beijing, China, 2023
Published by Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd
24 Baiwanzhuang Road, Beijing 100037, China
Distributed by China International Book Trading Corporation
35 Chegongzhuang Xilu, Beijing 100044, China
P.O. Box 399, Beijing, China
Printed in the People’s Republic of China
I. Upholding the Rule of Law in Cyberspace
II. Consolidating the Legal System for Cyberspace Governance
III. Keeping Order in a Rule-Based Cyberspace
IV. Defending Fairness and Justice in Cyberspace
V. Promoting Public Awareness and Competence in Law-Based Cyberspace Governance
VI. Increasing International Exchanges and Cooperation in Law-Based Cyberspace Governance
The internet is one of humanity’s great achievements. Although it facilitates economic and social development, at the same time it poses severe challenges in terms of administration and governance. The development and governance of the internet is a goal shared by all countries for the benefit of humanity, and the rule of law has proved to be essential to internet governance. It has become a global consensus to apply law-based thinking and approaches based on an understanding of the rule of law.
Since China was fully connected to the internet in 1994, it has committed itself to law-based cyberspace governance, ensuring that the internet develops within the confines of the law. In the new era, guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, China has made law-based cyberspace governance an essential part of the overall strategy of the rule of law and the drive to build up its strength in cyberspace.
Marked improvements have been made in ensuring law-based cyberspace governance. China has boosted cyberspace governance by developing a complete system of laws and regulations, a highly efficient enforcement system, a stringent supervision system, and an effective supporting system. With participation of the government, businesses, social organizations and netizens, cyber legislation, law enforcement, and judiciary work have advanced alongside programs to spread legal knowledge via the internet, publicize cyber laws and cultivate the public’s awareness in laws. This is a pioneering approach to cyberspace governance in line with international best practices. With stronger domestic capacity in law-based internet governance, China has contributed ideas and solutions to global internet governance.
The Chinese government is publishing this white paper to introduce China’s progress and experience in law-based cyberspace governance.
I. Upholding the Rule of Law in Cyberspace
Adapting to the developing trends of global information technology, China set out from its own realities to integrate law-based cyberspace governance into the overall national strategy of the rule of law, gaining knowledge and experience in the process. It has pioneered a distinctive Chinese approach to law-based cyberspace governance.
– People-centered development. In China, the people contribute ideas and solutions and play a principal role. Their rights, interests, aspirations and wellbeing are the focus in every aspect of cyber legislation, law enforcement, judiciary work, public education, and all other areas of law-based cyberspace governance. China protects people’s legitimate rights and interests in cyberspace, and fully respects netizens’ right to express ideas and exchange views. It has strengthened law-based cyberspace governance, taking resolute action against cybercrimes to keep order in this virtual world, and striving to create a safe, fair, healthy, clean and sound cyber environment.
– Further development of the internet. The purpose of law-based cyberspace governance is to guarantee the healthy and orderly development of the internet, not to hold it back. Under law-based cyberspace governance, China has guided and regulated efforts to build a high-quality digital China – improving the governance system for the digital economy, the legal framework of digital government, and the digital society initiative. Placing equal emphasis on development and security, China has consolidated its lines of defense so that the internet grows in a secure environment and further boosts cybersecurity. Cyberspace has thus been turned into a powerful engine for socioeconomic growth, rather than an area of uncertainty.
– Proceeding from realities. China is the world’s largest developing country and has the largest number of internet users. It boasts a large number of business platforms that offer all types of products and services. As a result, there are diverse legal subjects, relationships and situations where different laws apply. With all this in mind, China handles the relationships between development and security, freedom and order, openness and autonomy, and administration and service in an appropriate manner. It has conducted in-depth research on frontier areas of overbearing importance, employing law-based thinking and approaches to break through bottlenecks in internet development and find solutions for healthy internet growth.
– Innovation-driven cyberspace governance. The internet is a result of innovation and has flourished because of it. Law-based cyberspace governance cannot be achieved without innovation. With a keen understanding of the unprecedented difficulties and complications in cyberspace governance, China has been forward-looking in responding to the risks and challenges brought by new internet technologies, applications, and business forms and models, and promoted innovation in the concept, content, approach and methods of law-based cyberspace governance. By creating and improving rules on algorithm, blockchain technology, and other new technologies and domains, it has filled gaps in key areas where legislation once lagged behind. A system for comprehensive cyberspace governance is now in place, and new models of cyber judiciary work have been created. Driven by innovation, China has raised its capacity for internet governance in all areas.
– Openness and cooperation. Upholding cyber sovereignty, China has drawn from the experience of other countries in cyberspace governance, planning internet development in a global context and pioneering a distinctively Chinese model of internet governance in line with international best practice. It has played an active part in working with other countries to formulate rules for cyberspace governance, and engaged in international exchanges and cooperation in law-based cyberspace governance. It is committed to building a multilateral, democratic and transparent global internet governance system together with other countries.
In the new era, China set out from its realities and learned from advanced foreign experience to explore its own approach to cyberspace regulation and governance, maintaining the right orientation while pursuing innovation. Significant achievements have been made in a range of areas, building up China’s strength in cyberspace and adding momentum to law-based governance of the country, as well as contributing to national governance by the CPC in the information age.
– A guarantee of the transformation from scale to strength. China is building up its strength in cyberspace through these goals: universally available network infrastructure, significantly greater capacity of independent innovation, comprehensive development of the digital economy, guarantee of cybersecurity, and balanced ability of cyber attacks and defense. Major progress has been made in China towards these goals, as evidenced by the world’s largest number of netizens, the largest and most advanced fiber-optic broadband and mobile telecommunication networks, and world-leading 5G technology, industry and applications. China’s Internet of Things (IoT) now connects more cellular terminals than mobile phone users.
China’s digital economy has been growing with a strong momentum. In 2021, its value reached RMB45.5 trillion, ranking second in the world. New internet technologies are widely used in areas such as education, employment, social security, medical and health care, sports, housing, transport, support for persons with disabilities, and elderly care. Internet Plus services are running on a track of healthy development in accordance with the law. China has created the world’s largest active digital society.
– Law-based national governance fully implemented in cyberspace. In China, the principle of law-based governance of the country applies equally in cyberspace. The Law-based Governance of China Initiative has been implemented, and progress has been made in law-based cyberspace governance by ensuring sound lawmaking, strict enforcement, impartial administration of justice, and the observance of the law by all. Under socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics in cyberspace, the groundwork for cyber legislation has been laid, contributing to and improving China’s socialist legal system. Cyber law enforcement has continued to strengthen. By taking tough action against illegal behaviors in cyberspace, China has fostered a sound cyber environment and maintained online order, which contributes to peace and harmony in the society as a whole. Rules of cyber adjudication have improved, more online cases have been handled, and justice is served in cyberspace as elsewhere. Knowledge of cyber laws has been further spread, and netizens have acted accordingly – respecting, learning, abiding by, and using the law. The Chinese people’s awareness of and literacy in the law has increased.
– Contributing ideas, experience and solutions to global internet governance. Cyberspace is a shared space for human activities; it must be developed and managed by all countries. China has formed its own approach to law-based cyberspace governance by advancing legislation, law enforcement, judiciary work, and programs to spread knowledge about cyber laws, and has shared its experience with the world. It has taken an active part in global internet governance, promoting the G20 Digital Economy Development and Cooperation Initiative and the Global Data Security Initiative, and other proposals and declarations. It raised the principle of cyber sovereignty, and advocates that the principle of sovereign equality established by the UN Charter be applied to cyberspace, thereby contributing ideas and solutions to cyberspace governance.
II. Consolidating the Legal System for Cyberspace Governance
The law is a powerful tool for governing a country, and sound laws are the prerequisite for good governance. Following the trend of internet development, China has advanced the legal system for cyberspace governance through legislation that is enacted in a well-conceived and democratic way and in accordance with the law. Cyber legislation is becoming systematic, holistic, coordinated, and time-efficient.
Cyber legislation in China has undergone a long, gradual process that can be roughly divided into three stages. The first stage ran from 1994 to 1999, a period when China became connected to the internet. Internet users and devices grew steadily in number. Legislation during this stage focused on network infrastructure security, specifically computer systems security and network security. The second stage lasted from 2000 to 2011, when personal computers (PC) served as the main terminal for internet connection. As PCs and internet users grew rapidly in numbers, internet connection services became more affordable and web-based information services boomed. Legislation during this stage shifted to internet services and content management. The third stage, which began in 2012, is dominated by mobile internet. Legislation now is gradually focusing on comprehensive cyberspace governance by covering areas such as network information services, information technology development, and cybersecurity.
Over the years, China has promulgated more than 140 laws on cyberspace, forming a cyber legislation framework with the Constitution as the foundation, supported by laws, administrative regulations, departmental rules, local regulations and local administrative rules, endorsed by traditional legislation, and underpinned by specialized cyber laws governing online content and management, cybersecurity, information technology, and other elements. This system of laws on cyberspace governance provides a strong institutional guarantee for building up China’s strength in cyberspace.
1. Establishing a System of Laws for Protecting People’s Rights and Interests in Cyberspace
China has established a sound system of laws to protect people’s rights and interests in cyberspace, laying the legal groundwork for protecting both online and offline rights.
– Protecting the freedom and confidentiality of correspondence. This is a prerequisite for citizens to air views and needs in cyberspace of their own volition. China enacted the Measures on Ensuring Security of Internationally Connected Computer Information Networks in 1997, to provide legal protection of the freedom and confidentiality of correspondence as enshrined in the Constitution. It formulated the Telecommunications Regulations in 2000, stipulating that citizens’ freedom to use telecom services and their confidentiality of correspondence are protected by law. It revised the Regulations on Radio Administration in 2016, further strengthening the protection of the confidentiality of correspondence via radio service. Thus, this basic right enjoys full protection in cyberspace.
– Protecting personal information rights and interests. China has built a line of defense in law for protecting personal information rights and interests. In 2020, the Civil Code was adopted at the Third Session of the 13th National People’s Congress, which makes systemic provisions on protecting personal information in civil cases based on previous legal stipulations. In 2009 and 2015, Amendment VII and Amendment IX to the Criminal Law added provisions on the crime of infringing upon citizens’ personal information, thus strengthening the protection of personal information in the Criminal Law. In terms of cyber legislation, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Decision on Strengthening Online Information Protection in 2012, announcing clearly to protect electronic information that may reveal citizen’s identity and privacy. The Cybersecurity Law enacted in 2016 further refined rules on personal information protection.
The Personal Information Protection Law, promulgated in 2021, represented an overall upgrading of personal information protection. It defined and refined principles on protecting personal information and rules on processing personal information, and specified how state agencies should process personal information in accordance with the law. It empowered the subjects of personal information with a range of rights, emphasized the obligations of personal information processors, improved the mechanism for protecting personal information, and set clear and strict legal liabilities.
– Safeguarding citizen’s property. China has strengthened legislation to curb infringements upon citizens’ property by way of the internet. In 2018, the Electronic Commerce Law was promulgated, stipulating that products or services from e-commerce suppliers should not undermine personal safety or the security of property. The Civil Code has clear provisions on the legal liability of those who infringe upon others’ property rights and interests by way of the internet. In 2022, China enacted the Law on Combating Telecom and Online Fraud, providing strong legal support for fighting crime and safeguarding people’s property rights and interests.
– Protecting the digital rights of special groups. Through multilevel and multifaceted legislation, China has invested a real effort to close the digital divide for minors, elderly people, and persons with disabilities, so that everybody can join in the digital society on an equal basis and enjoy the benefits of the digital age as much as possible.
As stipulated in the Cybersecurity Law, the state supports research and development on internet products and services that are beneficial to minors’ healthy growth, and punishes by law those who place their physical and mental health at risk via the internet. In 2019, China issued the Regulations on the Protection of Children’s Online Personal Information, prioritizing the protection of personal information for children. In 2020, the Law on the Protection of Minors was revised, to strengthen minors’ education on internet literacy, online supervision and regulation of content for minors, protection of minors’ personal information online, and prevention and control of internet addiction, all to safeguard minors’ legitimate rights and interests in cyberspace. The Data Security Law, promulgated in 2021, stipulates that providers of smart public services should take into full consideration the needs of elderly people and persons with disabilities, and make sure they do not create obstacles to their daily life.
2. Improving Law-Based Governance of the Digital Economy
To transform from high-speed growth to high-quality growth, China has continued to improve institutions fundamental to data development, maintain order in the digital market, and regulate new business forms and models of the digital economy, laying a sound framework of rules for the healthy growth of the digital economy.
– Creating institutions fundamental to data development. Data is a fundamental resource and an engine for innovation. The Data Security Law contains provisions on implementing the big data strategy, supporting R&D on data-related technology and business innovation, advancing data-related standards, and developing data trading markets. These provisions aim to improve data development and utilization, and promote the growth of the digital economy in which data serves as a key factor.
– Regulating the operation of the digital market. China regulates and develops the digital market in accordance with the law, stands firmly against monopolies and unfair competition, and improves digital rules to ensure a market environment for fair competition.
The Electronic Commerce Law provides a full set of regulations on e-commerce operation, with clear provisions on the responsibilities of e-commerce platform operators and business owners on these platforms. It stipulates that e-commerce operators with a dominant share of the market should not abuse their position to eliminate or limit competition, so that fair competition is maintained. The Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests (2013 Revision) established a seven-day unconditional return policy for online shopping, to reinforce the primary responsibility of online business operators in consumer rights protection. The Law Against Unfair Competition (2017 Revision) has separate provisions regarding the internet, to ban unfair competition that takes advantage of technology. The Measures on the Supervision and Administration of Online Transactions, enacted in 2021, contain detailed provisions on the relevant regulations in the Electronic Commerce Law, to strengthen online trading supervision. In 2021, the Anti-monopoly Commission under the State Council issued the Anti-monopoly Guidelines for Platform Economy, to strengthen and improve anti-monopoly supervision based on the status, characteristics, and development of the platform economy. In 2022, the Anti-monopoly Law was amended to improve the anti-monopoly framework for the platform economy, banning operators from abuse of a monopoly position by leveraging their strengths in data and algorithms, technology, capital, and platform rules.
– Regulating new business forms and models of the digital economy. The rapid rise of new business forms and models in the digital economy created social and economic impetus and potential, and also posed new challenges for social governance and industrial growth. Focusing on problems unique to the new forms and models in certain areas, China has advanced legislation in both the comprehensive and special laws to prevent and defuse risks.
The Civil Code improved the rules on the conclusion and execution of electronic contracts, and brought data and virtual assets under legal protection, giving a boost to the digital economy. To expand the legal framework for governing Internet Plus services, China has introduced an array of regulations, including the Interim Measures on the Administration of Online Taxi Booking Services, Regulations on the Administration of Algorithmic Recommendations for Internet Information Services, Regulations on the Administration of Blockchain Information Services, Interim Measures on the Administration of Business Activities of Intermediary Agencies for Online Lending, and Interim Regulations on the Administration of Online Tourist Services.
3. Safeguarding Cybersecurity by Law
Cybersecurity is a new component of national security, and an issue of paramount importance. By formulating the National Security Law, Cybersecurity Law, and Data Security Law, China has defined the legal institutional framework for cybersecurity, to boost its defenses against cyber threats and effectively respond to cybersecurity risks.
– Setting rules for cybersecurity. The Regulations on the Security and Protection of Computer Information Systems was released in 1994, designed to safeguard and supervise computer information system security. In 2000, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Decision on Ensuring Internet Security, detailing security requirements in operation and information, and establishing a framework of responsibilities for cybersecurity composed of civil, administrative and criminal liabilities.
The Cybersecurity Law specifies the systems for ensuring security of network operation, online products and services, data, and information. Some of its provisions are further elaborated in the Measures on Cybersecurity Review and the Regulations on the Management of Security Loopholes of Online Products. After years of effort, China now has a complete set of legal rules on cybersecurity, and greater capacity for ensuring cybersecurity through institutional development.
– Ensuring security for critical information infrastructure. Critical information infrastructure is the nerve center of socioeconomic operation, and the top concern for cybersecurity. Its security is central to maintaining cyber sovereignty and national security, guaranteeing sound socioeconomic development, and protecting the public interest and the legitimate rights and interests of individual citizens.
In 2021, China released the Regulations on the Security and Protection of Critical Information Infrastructure, with provisions defining what constitutes critical information infrastructure and the principles and goals of protection. The procedures for identifying critical information infrastructure were improved, and the operators’ responsibility for cybersecurity was clarified. There were also provisions on improving the mechanisms for network security and protection, setting up special security management agencies, conducting safety monitoring and risk assessment, and regulating the purchase of online products and services. The Regulations provide the legal ground for upgrading the country’s capacity for safeguarding critical information infrastructure.
– Developing the legal framework for data security management. Proceeding from reality and focusing on the outstanding problems in data security, China has strengthened its capacity for data security through legislation. The Data Security Law has clear provisions on establishing mechanisms for categorized and classified data protection, risk monitoring and early warning, emergency response, and data security review; it also contains measures to facilitate data security and development and provisions for the security and openness of government data.
4. Improving Regulation for a Sound Cyber Environment
Cyberspace is a public space for internet users. A clean and sound cyber environment is in accord with the people’s expectations. Out of a strong sense of responsibility towards society and the people, China has introduced laws and regulations for comprehensive cyberspace governance, to clean up the cyber environment with a focus on online information and content.
– Regulating the orderly dissemination of online information. To strengthen online information governance, a global challenge, China formulated the Civil Code, Cybersecurity Law, and Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, to define the rules for the dissemination of online information and the liabilities of relevant subjects. These laid the legal groundwork for tackling illegal information that threatens national security, harms the public interest, and infringes upon the legitimate rights and interests of individuals.
– Sharpening the legal weapons against cyberterrorism. China stands firm against the threat of cyberterrorism. The Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, and Anti-Money Laundering Law contain provisions on criminal liability for terrorist activities and judicial proceedings in the investigation of terrorist crimes, as well as on monitoring the money for funding terrorist activities. The Counterterrorism Law promulgated in 2015 has separate provisions on the targets, measures and mechanisms for combating terrorism in cyberspace.
III. Keeping Order in a Rule-Based Cyberspace
Strict law enforcement is a critical link in law-based cyberspace governance. China has taken rigorous measures to ensure fair and rule-based law enforcement in cyberspace, strengthening enforcement in key areas of immediate concern to the people, and protecting the legitimate rights and interests of the individual as well as the general public. A sound, rule-based order has been created in a clean cyber environment.
1. Protecting Personal Information
With a thriving digital economy come a growing number of crimes, such as the illegal collection, buying and selling, use and leakage of personal information, which threaten people’s personal and property security and disrupt social and economic order. Personal information protection concerns people’s legitimate rights and interests, as well as public security governance and the future of the digital economy.
Targeting covert, high-frequency personal information infringements with high-tech means, China has adopted new thinking and methods of supervision, taking tougher action against illegal activities. For example, it carries out regular actions against mobile applications that illegally collect and use personal data. Since 2019, the authorities in China have inspected 3.22 million mobile applications, issuing notice of criticism to or removing about 3,000 applications that violated laws and regulations. Through these targeted actions, violations of personal information rights have been effectively curbed, as many more applications are now conforming to relevant regulations and the public has also built a strong awareness of personal data protection. Respecting and protecting personal information is recognized as essential by all.
2. Protecting Online Intellectual Property Rights
Strengthening online intellectual property rights (IPR) protection is central to innovation in internet technology. As new technologies and applications flourish, IPR infringements online have become cheaper and more diversified and covert, posing a severe challenge to law enforcement in terms of tracing, evidence collection, and enforcement.
Over the years, China has developed a keen understanding of online IPR creation, protection and application, and taken strong actions for online IPR protection. These include: establishing and improving supervision mechanisms, creating a new dynamic of IPR protection by all members of society, launching cross-platform cooperation for IPR protection, and punishing online infringement and piracy. Integrated online-offline law enforcement has been strengthened to enable firm action against online trademark infringements and counterfeiting of patented products. Regular targeted actions have been taken against all types of infringements and piracy, including online copyright infringement, pirated film copies and illegal dissemination, and copyright infringement in key markets and areas. During the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics, more than 110,000 unauthorized links containing content about the Games were deleted from internet platforms. Through years of effort, China has achieved a marked improvement in online IPR protection.
3. Maintaining Order in the Online Market
The rapid rise of the online market has played a major role in stabilizing the economy, spurring consumption, securing employment, and serving the people’s wellbeing. China has tried out new models of law enforcement adapted to the online market, a new business form, and supported its sound and sustainable growth by regulating the market for fair competition and taking resolute action against all forms of illegal transactions.
– Ensuring fair competition in the online market. As online platforms expand in size and grow in strength, they have increasingly hampered fair competition by acquiring the best-performing startups in their sectors, deliberately blocking URL links of other platforms, compelling platform users to choose one platform over another, engaging in big data-enabled price discrimination against existing customers, and hijacking traffic.
In response to public appeal, China has taken a range of measures to address disorderly competition among online platforms, support their innovation-driven growth, and regulate and guide capital growth by law. Acts of unfair competition by major online platforms such as price cheating and dumping, monopoly abuse, and other acts of unfair competition have been redressed through regulatory means including administrative admonition, administrative guidance, and guidance on rules. Cases relating to concentration of platform operators in key areas such as finance, high-tech, media that affect people’s wellbeing have been reviewed and handled in accordance with the law. Mergers and acquisitions that might adversely affect market competition and innovation have been prevented, and online platform businesses are advised to increase their awareness of rules and regulate their operations.
All this has contributed to an improved market environment for the platform economy, a sound business environment of fair competition, and broader space for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to grow. A unified, open, fair, competitive, and orderly online business environment is taking shape.
– Regulating online trading and transactions. Rule-based online trading and transactions are essential to creating a sound online market environment and protecting the rights of those engaged in these activities.
China has launched Operation Wangjian to fight online sales of pirated, counterfeit, and sub-standard products, and illegal trading of wildlife and products. It has made sure that online platforms assume their due responsibilities, and strengthened supervision over internet advertisement. In response to new online trading forms such as livestreaming e-commerce and mini online stores, China has exercised strict regulation over customer soliciting by online channels, and investigated a number of websites and platform users suspected of wrongdoing. Targeted actions have been taken against online pyramid selling, particularly under the disguise of e-commerce, investment and money management, and online business startups. Online trading and transactions by main market players in key areas have thus been effectively regulated.
4. Safeguarding National Cybersecurity
A strong line of defense against cyber threats is the precondition and basis for the healthy development of the internet. China has continued to carry out law enforcement in securing core internet resources, key network systems, and internet data, effectively preventing and defusing risks to cybersecurity, and creating a safe online environment in the internet age.
In the area of core internet resources, it has strengthened the management of websites, domains and IP addresses, and improved early warning systems through more sophisticated technical means to guarantee security. In the area of key network systems, it has further strengthened protection for network security and monitored cybersecurity threats, effectively guarding against large-scale denial-of-service attacks and other major security incidents. In the area of internet data, through monitoring systems and category-specific management at all levels, it has increased the ability to protect and oversee data security, and strengthened law enforcement on data security involving the Industrial Internet, Internet of Vehicles, and 5G application.
5. Creating a Clean Cyberspace
In response to public demand and expectations, China has acted to regulate online information dissemination and rectify disorder in cyberspace. It has launched Operation Clean Net, Operation Qinglang and other special campaigns to address outstanding problems of strong public concern on the internet, such as pornography, fake information, cyberbullying, and abuse of algorithms. Websites and platforms spreading information that violates laws and regulations have received administrative admonition, rectification orders and warnings, and punishments such as fines and temporary bans on issuing new content. In addition, websites and platforms have been urged to assume their principal responsibility, and manage the information released by their users in accordance with the law and their user agreements. A complaint and reporting system for online information security is now in place to form synergy for cyber governance. With continued improvements to the online environment, the internet has become much cleaner and netizens more civil and better-behaved.
China prioritizes special protection for minors, creating a sound, friendly online environment for them. It has cleaned up the internet through Operation Child Protector and other special programs to maintain a safe online environment for minors, with a focus on illegal and harmful information, online gaming addiction, and unhealthy online socializing. It has strengthened the education on online safety among minors, and punished online crimes that harm the physical and mental health of minors, creating a sound and safe online environment for minors supported by joint efforts from families, schools, and society.
IV. Defending Fairness and Justice in Cyberspace
An impartial judiciary is the last line of defense for social fairness and justice. China has stayed committed to the principle of maintaining judicial justice and administrating justice for the people. Actively responding to the needs of justice in the age of the internet, China has employed internet and information technology to empower the traditional judiciary, improved rules of cyber justice, and reformed models of cyber justice. This has allowed it to settle new types of cyber disputes in accordance with the law, combat cybercrime, safeguard the rights and interests of cyberspace players, and deliver judicial services that are more fair, just, open, transparent, efficient, accessible, inclusive, and equitable.
1. Defining New Rules of Cyber Justice
As new internet technologies, applications and business forms develop quickly, legal relationships in cyberspace are becoming more diverse, posing new challenges to the administration of justice in cyberspace. This calls for better-defined rules of cyber justice.
For this purpose, China has produced timely judicial interpretations of civil and criminal issues such as intellectual property rights, the right to dignity, online transactions, and unfair competition on the internet, as well as telecom and online fraud. It has handled a good number of unprecedented, complicated cases that are closely related to the internet, such as those involving internet infrastructure security, algorithms, data rights and trading, protection of personal information, and management of online platforms. In the process, it has refined the criteria for the application of the law and made the standards for adjudication consistent. This has led to increasing clarity on the rules, code of conduct, and boundaries of rights, obligations and responsibilities in cyberspace. China has formulated rules for online litigation, mediation and operation of the people’s courts, refined rules on taking electronic data as evidence, and standardized the procedures for handling cybercrime cases. As a result, a system of rules and procedures for cyber justice is taking shape. This systematic development of relevant rules provides regulatory guidance and institutional safeguards for cyber justice, which is therefore becoming more rule-based.
2. Exploring New Models of Cyber Justice
China has been active in exploring new channels, domains and models for further integrating internet technology with judicial activities, for the purpose of speedier delivery of justice. In order to build a cyber justice model with Chinese characteristics, it has piloted measures in applying the latest technologies such as big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain in judicial proceedings, judgment enforcement, judicial administration, and other fields.
Local courts are encouraged to explore new mechanisms with regional features for internet-empowered adjudication, on the basis of the development of local internet industry and the characteristics of local cyber disputes. Internet courts have been established in Hangzhou, Beijing and Guangzhou, in an attempt to realize adjudication of internet-related cases via the internet. In the process of digitalizing procuratorial work, China has used big data to empower legal oversight. It has systematically integrated a wide range of case information, worked on models and platforms for big data-based legal oversight, and implemented oversight of the prosecution of individual cases and of similar cases in order to address the common problems they raise. This has helped improve the quality and efficiency of legal oversight in the new era. The emergence of these new models signifies the further development of a socialist judicial system with Chinese characteristics in cyberspace, and is becoming a salient feature of China’s judicial system.
3. Judicial Protection of Online Rights and Interests
China has carried out judicial activities to combat cybercrime, so that the people can see that justice is served in every judicial case.
Strengthening judicial protection of online civil rights and interests. To protect the online civil rights and interests of all parties concerned, China handles civil and commercial cases involving personal information, intellectual property rights, online transactions, and online infringement in accordance with the law. For protection of personal information, the focus is put on online platforms that process huge amounts of personal information. Civil public-interest litigations have been launched against online platforms suspected of abusing personal information. In adjudicating these cases, the courts have clarified the rules and limits for the commercial use of customers’ personal information, and prompted companies running online platforms to collect and use data in accordance with laws and regulations. For protection of intellectual property rights in internet-related cases of high technological complexity such as those involving patents, integrated circuit designs, technological secrets, and computer software, the courts have introduced a technology investigator system. Step by step, safeguards are being set up in cyberspace to protect citizens’ legitimate rights and interests there.
Intensifying punishment for cybercrime. As internet technology evolves swiftly, conventional crimes are transforming rapidly into internet-enabled, no-contact forms, leading to a rise in illicit acts such as telecom and online fraud, online gambling, and online pornography. China handles new types of cybercrime in accordance with the law. In recent years China has carried out a systematic “internet clean-up” campaign, combating cyber hacking, invasion of individual privacy, and many other criminal acts that cause strong concern to the public. It has launched a number of campaigns against telecom and online fraud, including those to hunt fugitives via cloud services and platforms, freeze the SIM cards and bank accounts used by suspects, intercept domestic recruitment by criminal groups operating from abroad, and pursue the heads and key members of criminal groups. It combats all types of predatory lending including trap loans, the student loan, reverse mortgage, and elder investment scams. It punishes in accordance with the law the shadowy businesses that provide services such as internet connection, domain registration, server hosting, mobile application development, online payment, and promotion to criminal groups behind telecom and online fraud.
China has also updated its national anti-fraud big data platform and anti-fraud app, built a national fraud database, and improved the mechanisms for quick freezing of payments and retrieval of swindled money. It takes resolute action against online gambling and delivers harsh punishments for online pornography. Through these efforts, remarkable progress has been made in combating cybercrime, giving the people a stronger sense of security and reinforcing social harmony and stability.
Exploring new avenues for judicial protection of minors in cyberspace. While focusing on forestalling and punishing cybercrime, China takes targeted measures against online criminal activities such as virtual sexual harassment, and has increased punishments for those preying on minors. Through law-based punishment and individualized assistance and education, the state does its utmost to rehabilitate underage people involved in cybercrime. China has strengthened the protection of minors in cyberspace, making breakthroughs in typical cases such as those concerning circulation of audio and video about narcotics, violation of minors’ personal information rights and interests, and excessive livestream rewards from minor viewers. By taking action in the form of public-interest litigation, written suggestions from prosecutorial organizations, support for prosecutions, and briefings on relevant information, China is working to pool the strength of online platforms, the public, and the government to foster a healthy cyber environment for young people.
V. Promoting Public Awareness and Competence in Law-Based Cyberspace Governance
Public participation is necessary for spreading knowledge of the rule of law in cyberspace. China makes every effort to break new ground in the content, form and means of spreading legal knowledge via the internet. The Chinese netizens’ awareness and understanding of the rule of law have generally increased, and online platforms have assumed their primary responsibility for legal compliance and the industry has embraced self-discipline. Respecting, learning, abiding by, and using the law is a shared understanding and basic principle, and the spirit of the socialist rule of law is fully manifested in cyberspace.
1. Internet Plus Public Legal Education
The internet has become a new space where people study, work and live; it provides a new platform for them to obtain information and access public services, which makes it a new avenue and means to spread knowledge of the law. The internet has changed the structure of legal literacy from unidirectional communication to interactive, service-based and immersive communication, and interpreted technical terms in plain everyday language. The participants have become increasingly active with better experiences and more gain.
Employing the internet to spread knowledge of the law. Government websites and WeChat official accounts set up special columns and features to spread legal knowledge regarding eco-environmental progress, food and drug safety, protecting personal information, and other matters of public concern, with a focus on the Constitution, Civil Code, National Security Law, Cybersecurity Law, and other important laws and regulations. China makes full use of the legal publicity website (legalinfo.moj.gov.cn), its weibo account, WeChat account and app and builds a smart legal publicity platform to spread knowledge and experience of the rule of law in China, so as to inculcate the idea in the public that rights and duties are integral to each other, as are personal freedom and social responsibility, to raise legal consciousness that laws should be applied to regulate behaviors and solve problems and conflicts, and to guide the people to advocate, abide by and defend the socialist rule of law.
Strengthening legal literacy through online media. With their strengths in content, channels, and resources, internet media have created a large number of graphics, cartoons, comics, short videos, livestream, and online music products on internet forums, blogs, microblogs, WeChat official accounts, instant messaging tools, livestreaming, search engines, Q&A communities and through many other channels that are tailored to meet the different needs of various groups in spreading legal awareness and explaining laws and regulations. These give the people direct access to the government’s public legal education information that has deeply penetrated businesses, communities, campuses, and villages. Legal literacy has improved significantly among all the people.
Extending real-world legal literacy efforts into the virtual world. With the widespread integration of the internet with the economy and social life, those lectures, legal literacy initiatives in communities, legal consulting services, and artistic performances on the rule of law that used to be conducted in the real world are now expanding their influence and coverage through the internet. Online legal literacy training courses, micro-video contests, and quiz games are integrating with and complementing those face-to-face activities, attracting wider participation, and benefiting a larger population.
2. Publicizing Cyber Laws and Regulations
Cyber laws and regulations are the main content of public legal education in cyberspace. They are becoming increasingly familiar to the public, providing the foundation for a sound and law-based cyberspace with high ethical standards.
Cyber laws and regulations are publicized during the whole legislative process. When drafting cyber laws and regulations such as the Cybersecurity Law, Data Security Law, and Personal Information Protection Law, the opinions of citizens, legal persons and other organizations are heard and can be adopted through public solicitation, deliberation, and appraisal via both online and offline channels. When these laws and regulations were promulgated, questions were explained through press conferences, answers to media questions, and expert interpretation. The public have been encouraged to learn more about cyber laws and regulations, and abide by them, which lays a solid public foundation for the law-based governance of cyberspace.
Legal literacy efforts are also being made in law enforcement and judicial activities when appropriate. To explain cyber laws, China releases information on typical cases of public concern, including online dissemination of illegal and harmful information, infringement of rights and interests relating to personal information, telecom and online fraud, and protection of minors in cyberspace. All cases relating to cyberspace are accessible to the public through four websites – adjudication procedure information (splcgk.court.gov.cn), court trial information (tingshen.court.gov.cn), judgment information (wenshu.court.gov.cn), and enforcement information (zxgk.court.gov.cn). The general public can access this information in a more direct and vivid way, and have evolved from onlookers to participants, supporters and advocates.
3. Raising Legal Awareness of Key Groups
The authority of the law comes from the people’s firm belief and sincere support. China focuses its legal literacy efforts on key groups like teenagers and internet company employees. Teenagers are guided to adhere to laws, conduct themselves with civility, and follow cybersecurity protocols when surfing the internet. Internet companies are under supervision for their compliance with laws and regulations, and they are also required to guard against legal risks.
Improving education on cyber laws among teenagers. Teenagers are the future of the country and the hope of our nation. They are a growing demographic in China’s netizen population. As the pioneers of the internet, they are the most active participants in online classes, communication, and life, but their legitimate rights and interests are also vulnerable to infringement on the internet. To protect their rights and interests and promote their healthy growth and well-rounded development, China makes every effort to improve their understanding of the rule of law in cyberspace, especially on critical concerns such as internet addiction, cyberbullying, and online pornography. Varied and vivid forms are adapted to their physical and mental development and their realities, such as story books, micro variety shows, plays for kids, radio stories, online classes, quiz games, and law classes taught in primary and secondary schools by police officers, prosecutors and judges who serve as part-time vice principals. A public legal education framework integrating government, society, schools and families has taken shape, which promotes the all-round legal awareness of juvenile netizens and builds their cybersecurity competence.
Strengthening internet companies’ compliance with the law. Internet companies are the main market players in the digital economy, and should promote its healthy development. Honesty and observing the law must be their cardinal principles. China is intensifying its efforts to promote legal literacy among internet companies, and requiring them to incorporate cyber laws into their induction and routine training. This applies especially to laws with a direct bearing on corporate operations and industry development, such as the Electronic Commerce Law, Cybersecurity Law, Data Security Law, Personal Information Protection Law, Anti-Monopoly Law, and Anti-Unfair Competition Law. Industry associations are encouraged to provide legal education in various forms for internet companies and their employees, and to ensure that the companies place equal emphasis on economic returns and social benefit. They are also required to guide – through improving industry norms, formulating industry standards, and issuing business integrity initiatives – the companies to fulfill their legal and social responsibilities. With such measures, consumers’ legitimate rights and interests are fully protected, and fair competition in the market is ensured.
4. Strengthening Research and Education on Law-Based Cyberspace Governance
Education and professional practitioners of law-based cyberspace governance underpin a cyber power and drive innovation. Facing major theoretical problems in law-based cyberspace governance and a demand for talented people, China has established a preliminary system for cultivating professionals and conducting research that combines theory and practice, adapts to the development of cyberspace, and provides intellectual support and sufficient talented people for the country’s law-based cyberspace governance.
Improving comprehensive research capabilities on law-based cyberspace governance. Universities and scientific research institutes have set up new-type think tanks to conduct relevant research and established a number of comprehensive research centers. By June 2022, China had more than 90 research institutes in this field. Serving as a bank of brain trusters, ideas, and talented people, these think tanks have conducted research in many frontier areas like data, algorithms, and platform management, and produced remarkable academic results. Experts and academics are fully engaged in relevant activities and offer constructive advice on China’s major plans, legislation and reforms in law-based cyberspace governance.
Strengthening the training of personnel for law-based cyberspace governance. China integrates conventional legal studies with internet-related disciplines. Cybersecurity studies has been categorized as a primary discipline, and some universities have set up secondary disciplines like internet and information law studies, digital law studies, and artificial intelligence law studies. In line with specified regulations and procedures, institutions of higher learning, on their own initiative, have run undergraduate courses on the rule of law in cyberspace such as cybersecurity and law enforcement. Teams of research and teaching in cyber law have been organized to teach interdisciplinary courses that integrate legal knowledge with computer science and statistics, such as network and information security, laws and artificial intelligence, cyber law studies, blockchain and digital evidence, and legal analytics. A group of practical textbooks covering frontier research have been compiled for students in relevant majors, including cyber law, computational jurisprudence, data law, and personal information protection law. A large number of personnel with professional knowledge of both law and technology have been trained, providing a solid foundation for building up China’s strength in cyberspace.
VI. Increasing International Exchanges and Cooperation in Law-Based Cyberspace Governance
Cyberspace is a shared activity space for all of humanity. All countries around the globe share the same desire to develop the digital economy; all face the same challenges posed by cybersecurity threats and have the same need for strengthening cyberspace governance.
China is fully engaged in international exchanges and cooperation in the field of law-based governance of cyberspace. Upholding independence, equality, and mutual respect, it joins with other countries to reform the global cyberspace governance system, to ensure that all countries share the opportunities and fruits brought by the development of the internet, and to jointly build a community with a shared future in cyberspace.
1. Playing an Active Role in Rule Making
China is committed to international fairness and justice. It resolutely safeguards the international system with the United Nations at its core, and the international order with international law as its foundation, and upholds the basic norms of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. It supports the participation of all countries in global cyberspace governance on an equal footing, and in laying down international cyberspace rules that are universally accepted.
China supports the UN’s role as the main channel in international cyberspace governance. It supports the UN effort to formulate a global-level cybercrime convention, has pushed for the General Assembly to adopt a resolution to establish an open-ended ad hoc intergovernmental committee of experts, and has played a constructive role in the negotiations on a convention. It calls on the international community to reach agreement on an authoritative and universal convention at the earliest possible time to lay a legal foundation for the battle against cybercrime. China values the UN’s key role in responding to international information security threats, and together with other Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states it submitted the original International Code of Conduct for Information Security to the UN General Assembly, and an updated version in 2015. It launched the Global Data Security Initiative, and issued the China-League of Arab States Cooperation Initiative on Data Security together with the League of Arab States in March 2021, and the Data Security Cooperation Initiative of China+Central Asia together with five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) in June 2022, which provide a blueprint for developing global data security rules. China encouraged the UN to draw up a framework for responsible state behavior in cyberspace, making clear that the principles of international law – such as equal sovereignty, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-use of force, non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs – are also applicable in cyberspace, and that impartial global security standards for the supply chain of information technology products should be formulated. It has expanded its cyberspace cooperation with the UN’s special organizations, taken an active part in formulating UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, and conducted extensive cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization in formulating domain name rules and settling disputes in this field.
Taking an active part in the formulation of regional cyberspace governance rules. China signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, under which the 15 member states including China laid down regional rules regarding electronic signature and electronic authentication, online consumer protection, online personal information protection, cybersecurity, cross-border transfer of information by electronic means, and intellectual property right protection. Its e-commerce chapter is by some margin the world’s most extensive and most used set of e-commerce rules. China has also taken vigorous steps to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, in order to participate in the formulation of high-standard rules in the digital economy.
2. Conducting Extensive Exchanges and Cooperation
As a longstanding supporter of international exchanges and cooperation in the rule of law in cyberspace, China takes part in dialogues, negotiations, exchanges, and mutual learning with other countries. It continues to expand and strengthen the network of global partnerships based on equality, openness, and cooperation, and to promote international cyberspace governance that is driven by common progress and designed for shared benefit.
Engaging in bilateral and multilateral dialogues and exchanges in law-based cyberspace governance. China has established the Sino-Russian Information Security Consultation Mechanism, China-EU Taskforce, China-ASEAN Cyber Dialogue Mechanism, and China-Japan-ROK Trilateral Cyber Consultation Mechanism, and co-hosted the 2019 China-Germany Dialogue on the Internet Economy, China-UK Internet Roundtable, China-ROK Internet Roundtable, China-Cuba Internet Development Forum, and China-Brazil Internet Governance Seminar. Through these pragmatic exchanges, it has worked with other countries on cyber policies, laws, regulations, and governance experience. It has responded promptly to the concerns of various parties, and settled disputes through negotiation on an equal footing. It has signed cybersecurity cooperation memorandums with countries including Thailand and Indonesia to strengthen exchanges and sharing in cybersecurity policies, laws and regulations, and to jointly build capacity in cybersecurity.
Increasing international law enforcement and judicial cooperation on cybersecurity. China has reached agreements on cybersecurity with many other countries and carried out in-depth and pragmatic cooperation in fighting cyberterrorism and telecom and online fraud. To combat cyberterrorism, China has increased cooperation with other countries through joint counterterrorism maneuvers, joint border defense operations, and police and judicial cooperation to meet threats and challenges and safeguard world peace and regional stability. In fighting telecom and online fraud, China has strengthened law enforcement and judicial cooperation with other countries, investigated major cross-border cases, and achieved substantial results. Between March and June 2022, 76 countries including China took part in an operation codenamed First Light 2022 initiated by the International Criminal Police Organization, with some 2,000 suspects arrested and some US$50 million worth of illicit funds intercepted, which effectively curbed transnational social engineering scams.
Jointly protecting the rights and interests of minors in cyberspace. China cooperates with the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Association of Internet Hotlines, and other international organizations, and relevant departments of the United Kingdom, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and other countries to fight online child pornography. As a member of WeProtect Global Alliance, China works with other member governments, companies and civil society organizations – totaling more than 200 – to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse online and create a safer cyber environment for children.
3. Creating Platforms for Dialogue
As a responsible major country, China has made great efforts to build a global platform promoting connectivity between China and the rest of the world, and a Chinese platform for the global internet to be shared and governed by all. It has played an active role in promoting connections, understanding, and mutual trust in the rule of law in cyberspace between different countries.
Hosting the world internet conferences for exchanging ideas on the rule of law in cyberspace. Every year since 2014, China has hosted the World Internet Conference, attended by representatives from governments, international organizations, internet companies, think tanks, industry associations, and technology communities. The organizing committee of the conference released a concept document named Jointly Build a Community with a Shared Future in Cyberspace, which calls for “respecting sovereignty in cyberspace” and points out that “the principle of sovereign equality enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations is a basic norm governing contemporary international relations. It covers all aspects of state-to-state relations, and should likewise apply to cyberspace.” The organizing committee also launched the Initiative on Jointly Building a Community with a Shared Future in Cyberspace, proposing that “international exchanges and cooperation should be advanced in the fields of data security, personal information protection and relevant rules and standards, and efforts should be made to promote mutual recognition among countries on rules and standards on personal information protection in line with the purposes of the UN Charter.” China has shared experience in legislation on the protection of minors, combated cybercrimes and cyberbullying targeted at minors, and further improved mechanisms for combating cybercrimes and cyberterrorism. It has supported and taken an active part in negotiations under the framework of the United Nations on the global convention against cybercrimes, and coordinated work on legislation and practices in different countries in a joint effort to tackle the threats of cybercrimes and cyberterrorism.
Building multi-form, multi-channel and multi-tiered international platforms to exchange views, experience and practices on law-based cyberspace governance including legislation, law enforcement, judicial work, and public legal education. China organizes this through many multilateral platforms like the BRICS cooperation mechanism, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization, and ASEAN Regional Forum. It hosted the World Forum on Rule of Law in Internet, and released the Wuzhen Declaration at the event, building a bridge for sharing experience, increasing understanding, and learning from each other in cyberspace justice. China supports industry associations of the internet to build international exchange platforms such as the China Internet Governance Forum, discussing such issues as digital inclusion and data governance. These platforms have promoted common understanding among Chinese and foreign internet communities, and facilitated joint solutions to the problems obstructing the development of the internet. China encourages Chinese experts and academics to attend academic forums and symposiums, conduct intellectual exchanges, and share research fruits with their foreign counterparts in frontier research on the digital economy, data security, governance of artificial intelligence, and other related matters.
Based on its own realities, and learning from other countries’ experience, China has created a cyberspace governance model with distinct Chinese characteristics. On the new journey towards a modern socialist country, China will always be committed to all-round law-based governance of the country and of cyberspace. It will promote the lawful, orderly and healthy development of the internet in China, safeguard the high-quality development of a digital China under the rule of law, and provide a solid legal guarantee for building up China’s strength in cyberspace.
The internet benefits the whole world. China champions the interests of the peoples of all countries in promoting the development and prosperity of cyberspace in accordance with the law. The rule of law in cyberspace is an important tool of digital governance, and a marker of digital progress. Facing the opportunities and challenges brought about by digitalization, China will follow the global governance principle of achieving shared growth through consultation and collaboration, and work together with the international community to ensure global cyberspace governance is law-based, and that digital progress will deliver greater benefit to the people. China stands ready to partner with all other countries to build a community with a shared future in cyberspace and create a better world.