Cyberspace is presenting not only new challenges for states but also new opportunities for power projection. Thus, analyzing how non-Western perspectives have developed around this subject becomes relevant to understand some dynamics of contemporary international relations in cyberspace. In this way, to know how “the East” has been behaving in this area, the present article will briefly confuse a small part, an Eastern regional strategic thinking to cybersecurity, materialized by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an international organization of eight member countries, namely – India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It was established in 2001 for political, military, and economic cooperation. A particular focus is on fighting the ‘three evil forces’ of terrorism, separatism, and extremism.
The SCO has four Observer States – Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, Mongolia, and six Dialogue Partners – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, Sri Lanka.
Challenges in Cyberspace handled by Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
While creating tremendous opportunities, cyberspace also faces a number of new issues and challenges. Security and stability in cyberspace has become a global concern which bears on the sovereignty, security and development interests of all countries. Problems such as unbalanced development, inadequate rules and inequitable order in cyberspace have become more evident. The digital divide among countries and regions is widening. Critical information infrastructure faces considerable vulnerability and potential risk. The existing global governance system of basic internet resources hardly reflects the desires and interests of the majority of countries. Cyber terrorism has become a global public menace. Cyber crimes are spreading. Interference in other countries’ internal affairs by abusing ICT and massive cyber surveillance activities happen from time to time. The absence of general international rules in cyberspace that effectively govern the behavior of all parties hampers the development of cyberspace.
No countries can stay immune from such problems and challenges. The international community can only work together through intensified cooperation in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual understanding and accommodation so as to put in place a rule-based global governance system in cyberspace. Therefore Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was created.
In 2009, the Agreement among the Governments of the SCO Member States on Cooperation in the Field of Ensuring International Information Security. On September 12, 2011, four members of the SCO submitted a Draft International Code of Conduct for Information Security to the United Nations General Assembly. This initial group was expanded to six members in 2015 when it introduced a new Draft to the UN General Assembly. However, the document’s substance does not drastically depart from that of the previous material.
At its core, the Chinese case for cybersovereignty envisions the regime’s absolute control over the digital experience of its population, with a focus on three dimensions: Internet governance, national defense, and internal influence. Through its guidance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the creation of the World Internet Conference, normative collaborations with Russia and other states, and promotion of Internet sovereignty as benefiting developing countries, in particular, the Chinese government is advocating for global recognition of the norm over the long term. Growing international support for cybersovereignty could undermine multi-stakeholder, transparency, accountability, and human rights, sparking new flashpoints in ongoing contestation over digital norms.
Goal of the SCO in Cyberspace
The concept of ‘international information security’ in the SCO is said to be controversial. While the SCO Member States believe that content is a potential security threat and should be regulated, the ‘Western consensus’ considers this level of content regulation to be a threat to fundamental human rights.
During the meeting of the SCO in 2018, held in Beijing, it was stressed that information and communications technology (ICT), including the Internet, was being actively used to promote all manifestations of terrorism, separatism, and extremism, to recruit militant. It was identified that this activity was to expand terrorist activities, interfere in the domestic affairs of other states, and commit additional criminal acts. Besides this, the participants called for intensifying practical cooperation in international information security and drafting universal regulations, principles, and norms of states’ responsible conduct in the media sector under UN auspices.
Terrorism adjusts fast to information globalization, and the critical task of the international community is to find an adequate response to new challenges. The understanding of this danger makes the leaders of SCO member states to get mobilized in counteracting cyber-terrorism, to hold bilateral and multilateral talks, including at the top level.
Being a benefit for humankind, the Internet has a vast destructive potential at the same time. This includes both psychological wars and its use for the propaganda of extremism, racism, and xenophobia and also for purely criminal purposes “ such as hacking the electronic networks of banks and government websites. Today, international terrorist organizations use the world wide web to assert themselves. Experts at SCO pointed to the need to educate the population about protection against all kinds of cyber fraud and to train personnel for the computer security sector, alongside drafting international legislation to regulate the information sphere. The forum annually raises issues as relevant aspects of global information security and information cooperation between Eurasian countries. All participants agreed that fight against terrorism in general and cyber terrorism, in particular, is doomed to fail without broad international cooperation and support from the public, political and business communities, and mass media.