Initially reluctant to join the JSI negotiation on e-commerce over concerns of it being a US plot, China has finally jumped on the JSI bandwagon at its launch in Davis in January 2019 and emerged as one of the most active participants. Such policy shift is the result of China’s realization that it is important to enhance its rule-making power in e-commerce and cyberspace, as noted by President Xi in his speech at the 36 Collective Study Session of the Politburo.
Despite being a world leader in e-commerce, or in China’s own words, “trade in goods facilitated by the internet”, China’s draconian approach to cybersecurity has made people doubtful as to whether China would make positive contribution to global e-commerce governance, with some even calling for “disqualifying” China from participation in the JSI negotiation. Indeed, as reviewed earlier in this paper, while many of China’s detailed proposals, especially those on trade facilitation and consumer protection, seems rather innocuous or even benevolent as they do offer good lessons for developing countries eager to catch the e-commerce train, its proposals on security exception and content review do raise concerns on whether China would be willing to accept the main demands of the US and other Western countries, i.e., free flow of information across border; free and open Internet; and prohibition of localization requirements, forced technology transfer and transfer of source code.
However, all these considerations do not necessarily have to spell the end of China’s participation in the JSI, especially if one takes a closer look at the nuances of the contrasting positions between China and the West.
Henry Gao is an Associate Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University.
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