News  |    |  April 8, 2021

China’s Techno-Authoritarianism Has Gone Global — Washington Needs to Offer an Alternative

News article by Maya Wang. Published in Foreign Affairs.

Nearly every week, the international news media reports on the Chinese government’s troubling use of technology to spy on its own citizens and those of other countries. China’s tech giants, Foreign Policy reported late last year, work hand in glove with the country’s spy agencies. The Guardian suggested in December that a Chinese state-owned phone operator spies on American users.

Surveillance is a fact of life for Chinese citizens and, increasingly, for those who live in countries that have adopted Chinese surveillance technology, from Ecuador to Kyrgyzstan. Even more worrisome, this ecosystem of Chinese-based technologies carries with it a set of values that undergirds the Chinese state—a form of twenty-first-century authoritarianism that marries social control and efficiency.

The United States has kneecapped Chinese technology giants in the name of national security and human rights. But the United States and its tech companies also have a checkered history with the very ideals they claim to uphold. To prevent China’s techno-authoritarianism from gaining traction, the United States must reverse course and start leading by example: it must reform its own surveillance practices, protect citizens’ privacy and security, and work with allies to set rights-respecting global standards for tech firms to follow. [ . . . ]