Author : Arindrajit Basu

Issue BriefsPublished on Sep 13, 2023 PDF Download
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

The US-China Cyber-Agreement: Implications for India

This essay considers the implications of the new cyber-security agreement between
China and the United States in terms of the evolution of an international legal regime governing
the use of cyberspace. This agreement lays down the foundations for norm emergence in the
arena, which could also carry implications for India by shaping the country's response and
carving its path towards becoming a crucial international stakeholder in the cyberspace regime.
As international relations today is characterised by an overwhelming lack of consensus on
crucial issues ranging from the high seas to the climate, it is imperative that the progress made by
China and the US be built upon and internalised by other states.

The aftermath of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s September 2015 visit to the United States was marked by an abundance of discourse on, inter alia, the merits of the US-China cyber-security agreement. The agreement was quickly dismissed by various foreign-policy pundits on grounds that it was “ambiguous”, “lacking teeth”, “missing essential aspects of a comprehensive agreement” and thereby, an inconsequential diplomatic endeavor. Such criticisms, however, fail to appreciate the potential of the agreement in laying out a normative framework with positive implications not just for US-China relations but also for the emergence of universal rules for the regulation of cyberspace in the near future.

The use of the term “deal” in reference to the agreement has also led to misinterpretation of its nature and purpose. It is imperative to clarify at the outset that the agreement is not a binding bilateral legal instrument and, in its present form, exists only in the form of a White House Press Release (in English) and a Chinese translation. Unlike, say, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, the purpose of this agreement was not to lay down a comprehensive set of rules for the regulation of state action in cyberspace. Expecting concrete rules to emerge at this heads of state summit imposes an unfair burden on both leaders. The agreement in itself is significant as it acknowledged the existence of certain issues by both states with regard to the use of cyberspace. It is certainly an attempt to work out the prospects that emerge with the establishment of this normative framework. This Brief will describe the salient features in the text of the agreement. It will then explain the significance of this agreement in terms of norm creation at the international level. Finally, it will explore what the emergence of this norm means for India by comparing it with its response to other international legal regimes.

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Arindrajit Basu

Arindrajit Basu

Arindrajit Basu is Research Lead at the Centre for Internet and Society. His writing covers geopolitics constitutional law and technology. He is a lawyer by ...

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