MOSCOW — During President Vladimir Putin's visit to Beijing next month, he is expected to seal a bilateral agreement on cyber-security between Russia and China, according to a source close to the Kremlin and confirmed by two other federal officials. They say presidential advisor Igor Shchyogolev is overseeing the document's final draft, but the final text is not yet available.
Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are also expected to make their first joint announcement about cyber-security, which Kommersant sources say will be substantially broader than last year's agreement between Russia and the United States.
In 2013, Putin and Barack Obama signed the first-ever bilateral agreement on measures of trust in cyberspace, almost like an electronic "non-aggression pact." Included as part of this agreement was the creation of a direct hotline from Washington to Moscow meant to prevent the escalation of cyber incidents, much like the Cold War hotline designed to prevent nuclear war. The agreement also created channels for bilateral exchange of information related to national cyber-security and preparedness. These channels were created during the preparations for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Russia had hoped to reinforce its relationship with the United States in this arena, with a special working group envisioned to continue working on online security. But because of the events in Ukraine, Washington halted its participation in the working group, although the agreement (including the hotline) continues to be in force.
Instead, Russia and China are now busy forging a new partnership on cyber-security. According to Valeria Yashchenko, vice director of the Institute of Cyber Security at Moscow State University, "a bilateral agreement between Russia and China — two major cyber powers — is long overdue."
When asked if the two sides might be trying to protect themselves in case of potential conflict (as was the case in the agreement with the U.S., which was reminiscent of nuclear-arms agreements), Yashchenko says, "Not necessarily. Moscow and Beijing just want to work together."
Protecting sovereignty, hunting terrorists
Russia and China certainly have more in common when it comes to cyber-security and Internet management than either country has in common with the United States. This was clear in a recent announcement regarding the Russian-Chinese interagency consultation on international information security. That document clarified that both sides would act against the use of information technology "for the use of interfering in the internal affairs of a country; to undermine the sovereignty or the political, economic or social stability of a country; to disrupt the peace, as propaganda for terrorism, extremism or separatism; to incite inter-ethnic or inter-religious hate or for the use of any criminal or terrorist goals."
Xi and Putin last year. Photo: Kremlin
The document also said that both countries support the "internationalization" of Internet management, which would entail a weakening of the American role in web oversight. Both China and Russia also favor the "sovereign right" of a government to control Internet sites in "its own national segment." The United States, instead, does not recognize the existence of "national segments."
Collaboration between China and Russia in IT and communications has increased in very concrete ways over the past several months. In May, the Russian state telecom company signed a $60 million contract with Chinese company Huawei to build an underwater communication line in the Russian Far East.
In August, the head of the Russian Ministry of Communications reached an agreement with his Chinese counterpart to increase exports of Russian software to China, as well as imports into Russia of servers made by China's largest server manufacturer, Inspur Group. The technology will be used by the Russian government to work on systems related to the production of passports and managing elections, among other uses.
At the same time, the partnership between China and the United States on Internet issues seems to be stuck. "The United State's incorrect position does not permit us to renew the Sino-American talks on this subject," former Chinese foreign minister and State Council member Yang Jiechi said during a recent visit to Washington. Yang was referring to Washington's accusations that China is involved in industrial and governmental cyber espionage.