Too often, digitalization and cyber are discussed and treated one-sidedly. This undermines the comprehensive and strategic importance of the digital and cyber realm. By considering a much more elaborated holistic view of the cyber space, the very focus shifts from a technical to a narrative, informational and symbolic one. Power politics, infrastructures, strategic communication but also shifting norms are strategic elements applied to cyber-geopolitics.
The ambiguity of the term Cyber
Generally speaking, the term cyber is used in many different contexts: cyberwarfare, cyber security, cybermobbing, cybertruck etc. The list could be prolonged indefinitely. This attests to the almost inflationary presence of the term cyber. However, an explicit and comprehensive definition of cyber is often not discussed. The general consensus is however, that the term cyber is related with concepts of computing or the internet. At the same time, cyber space und information space are often lumped together as one. Needless to say this can lead to misconceptions. Consequently, the term cyber is used as an interchangeable term within the realm of informatics, and information is reduced to data, data transfer and data processing. This leads to a problematically undifferentiated nexus. Those very reductions impede a broad and interdisciplinary socio-technological debate: the implications cybersphere has on communication, language and symbols as well as on analog relationships and people, are not discussed.The popularity of terms like cyber and artificial intelligence (AI) paired with their ambiguity have a profound potential for geostrategic power projections.
China’s long-term and deeply rooted digital strategy
Parallelly to the popular new silk roads, China pursues its digital silk road strategically. For Beijing it is all about cyberinfrastructure and technological supremacy. Submarine cables, fiber optic cables and enormous data centers constitute the backbone of this very strategy. These include space-based upgrading of satellite networks, the predominance in 5G technology and the expertise in Smart Cities. Ostensibly, the focus herein lies on data and technology as well. The digital silk road is about infrastructure, hardware but also software.
Analyzing on a deeper level, China promotes a much more strategic and long-term agenda. China chairs more and more international norm- and standardization bodies (cf. ITU, ISO and IEC). International law and standards of tomorrow as well as global regulations for 5G, crypto currencies, blockchain, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Cities etc. are discussed and created within these agencies. Therefore, the cyber-geopolitical influence is much more lasting than the current technological predominance in a specific area, like China’s 5G-technology. This leads to lasting normative influence and dependencies. So-called normalization strategies in the area of cyber, meaning the establishment of new or not yet recognized approaches and implementations of technologies, allow for a continuing and deeply rooted interference. The normative power to define, change and enforce the usage of technologies is often referred to as normal, accepted and legitimate by politics, the economy and the society at large. Thus, China extends the regulatory level with a normative level. Science, technology and progress are only stirrups and driving forces of a holistic and agile geopolitical agenda.