Research NewsBooks

Foreign Hostile Forces The Human Rights Dimension of China’s Cyber Campaigns

Senior Legal Advisor Sarah McKune has contributed a chapter to a new book from Oxford University Press, China and Cybersecurity: Espionage, Strategy and Politics in the Digital Domain (eds. Jon R. Lindsay, Tai Ming Cheung, Derek S. Reveron). Her chapter is entitled “’Foreign Hostile Forces’: The Human Rights Dimension of China’s Cyber Campaigns.”

In this work McKune examines China’s activity in and policies concerning cyberspace from a human rights perspective. She argues that, in cyberspace and beyond, the Chinese government’s treatment of human rights and its approach to security are fundamentally intertwined. McKune writes:

The [Chinese Communist Party (CCP)] considers the propagation or assertion of “Western” ideologies and “universal” values, including human rights principles, in China as a calculated effort of “foreign hostile forces” and “internal dissidents” to challenge its authority. As a result, rights-related advocacy may serve as a basis on which the government identifies threat actors or targets of value. Authorities may consider not only foreign governments but also civil society groups and other nonstate actors working on rights issues as legitimate targets for offensive cyber activity. . . .

Official legitimization of the targeting of civil society groups raises serious questions regarding China’s ability and willingness to distinguish among targets in cyberspace, as well as its compliance with international human rights law and development of appropriate norms of restraint in this strategic domain. Diplomacy regarding cyberspace requires a holistic understanding of the Chinese government’s approach to cybersecurity, including its views on threats to security in the guise of human rights.

McKune examines China’s CCP imperatives for ideological control, noting how such imperatives have undermined digital security and human rights, both domestically and internationally. Her analysis also incorporates Citizen Lab and other research on China and incidents of targeted digital threats against civil society.

Jon R. Lindsay, co-editor of the volume, will begin an appointment as Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs in July 2015.

Unless otherwise noted this site and its contents are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada license.

Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy | University of Toronto