The Cyber Sovereignty Challenges

J. J. Baloch


“Strike hard against online rumours, harmful information, fake news, news extortion, fake media and fake reporters, media must follow the party line, uphold the correct guidance on public opinion and promote ‘positive propaganda’, so states the President of China Xi Jinping a few days back. The statement has created worldwide media ripples that China is going to block popular foreign social websites such as Google and Facebook very soon.

The world goes borderless in a post-internet era where political governments having jurisdiction over their territorial domains find it quite difficult to ensure their controls in cyberspace. Easy access in real time exposes youth to the content which could be explosive but inevitable too. The different rounds of talks and understandings between US and China on the issues of their controls on virtual world revealed many basic principles to ensure the sovereignty in global cyberspace.

Cyber sovereignty refers to internet governance. By internet governance, we mean ‘desire of the political governments to exercise political, economic. technological and cultural control over the internet within their borders. Many security experts, including Bruce Schneider, are of the view that cyber sovereignty movement is active in many countries including Russia, China, France, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern as well as East Asian states. This movement received a remarkable boost in 2013 revelations of widespread international NSA surveillance. However, many blame USA for hypocrisy on internet freedom issue.

The Tallinn Manual as developed by American and European Experts offers these words to shed light on the sovereignty, “the principle of sovereignty, in cyberspace, applies to network space, the claim expressed as a state within its sovereign territory can implement control on the information infrastructures and activities,” where the definition of sovereignty, based on 1928 Island of Palmas international law ruling, stressed that a country’s internal affairs are independent without interference from other countries; and on this basis, the sovereignty-related with cyberspace is expressed as referent with the information infrastructures in a state’s territory, airspace, territorial waters and territorial sea (including the seabed and subsoil); the direct consequence is those information infrastructures, regardless of their specific owners or users, are under the sovereignty of a country’s judicial and administrative jurisdiction, which is protected by sovereignty (Schmitt 2013).”

One of the political studies carried out by Chinese experts on cyber sovereignty reads: ” though China and US may have different narratives of how to apply cyber sovereignty principle to guide the governance of global cyberspace, both two countries pay special attention to how to ensure the cyber sovereignty in different ways. The US prefer to expand its cyber sovereignty, while China prefers to launch the cyber sovereignty defensively”.

Great Firewall Selfie August 墙中自拍 cdt

The issues of cyber governance, knocking at the doors of public policy, is a phenomenon which has come to limelight since 2010. It was exactly the year when wiki leakers disclosed secret cables and war files of the state and defence departments, so claims Kessler a cyber expert. The US introduced a new version of “cyberspace international Strategy” in which was clearly announced the intention of building a kind of hegemonic order in global cyberspace. From 2012 to 2013, there were a series of news stories about “Chinese cyber espionage attack” rendered as the new threat toward US national security.

However, there was insider disclosure of “PRISM Gate” by former CIA contractor Snowden in 2013. Very next year, the US Department of Commerce suddenly announced intent to “transition key Internet domain name functions. In August 2015, it announced the extension of the contract with ICANN for 1 year, directly making relations of cyberspace with different actors the focus of public attention”. Understanding this series of events is extremely important in the perspectives of international relations and newer colder war between China and united states.

The newer colder war is likely to influence the interstate relations and security narratives of the states involved in cyber power race. This cyber battleground is attracting not only state actors but also non-state actors too who wish to take over the domain exclusively for the outreach of their extremist narratives in every nook and corner of the world without any check and brake of the border, barbed wire, walk through gates, airport scanners, defence radars.

Experts of cyberspace give a very serious thought to this emerging scenario because they believe that this has greater “practical value and theoretical significance” in the strategic domain. In order to understand these new changes, the countries like Pakistan should begin to research and map the challenges arising from the issues of cyberspace to understand the cyber sovereignty challenges.

The first and foremost challenge in this area, according to cyber studies, is “the eroding of geographic borders of the states”. Secondly, understanding the role, function, strategic utility and the new characteristics of sovereignty is of vital importance to the geopolitical futurists. Thirdly, evolving the models to establish a cyber sovereignty for defending their cultural and ideological borders is one of the pestering problems facing the modern state. Fourthly, “although some scholars have pointed out, the real cyberspace is the logical space which is actually difficult to be accurately perceived and managed, cyberspace is unable to exist without supporting from the physical world”. Lastly, It is very difficult for cyber governance to ensure the presence of administrative authority in cyberspace.

Business concept enter China

Whether sovereignty can adapt to the challenges of cybersecurity is one of the key questions since 2009 and indeed one of the most difficult issues in dealing with cyber conflict. Perhaps, the main challenge in the area of cyber governance relates to the security that” rising of non-state actors produced tough conflict with the deploying of traditional international law based on the rule of sovereignty in these new areas”. In this regard, Herzog, a cyber security expert, maintains that “it is quite clear that the sovereignty must have a proper position in handling with cyber security issues when more and more multi-source attacks have appeared in cyberspace.” Another expert of cyber politics Drezner adds saying, “though at the very beginning the term governance referred to governing without the government, the government or the sovereignty state must be brought back in.”

Very recently China’s government has pledged to bolster their cyber sovereignty by ensuring stricter controls on the internet content. In this regard, President Xi Jinxing of China has directed his national cultural department to strengthen controls on search engines like Google and international news portals. The Chinese government is very much concerned about losing their communist ideological controls on their youth if they think they fail to prevent the easy and free flow of rumours and unverified content to penetrate their homes. As a result, they are going to adopt their five-year cultural plan and strategy to perfect their internet regulatory laws as they claim.


Keeping in view the worldwide trends and fears of likely cyber wars in future, Pakistan should invest into cyber defence and sovereignty because India being our competitor is on her way to doing something significant into it in the wake of China’s cyber offensive. We need to explore our room in cyberspace very diligently and timely before we lag far behind.

The Writer is a policing educator and a novelist…  



Author: PublicPolicyInsights

With MSc Criminal Justice Policy from London School of Economics, London, UK, J. J Baloch has 20 years of work experience. He has worked in National Bank of Pakistan as officer grade 2 from 1995 to 2000. From 2000 till date He is working at Police Service of Pakistan. As an author he has published three books: Introduction to sociology, 2000; On the Art of Writing Essays, 2016; and The Power of Social Media & Policing Challenges, 2016. On 17 March 2017 J.J. Baloch is launching his first novel: "Whiter Than White: The Daughter of The Land of Pure" which is being published by Matador publication from the UK. Besides this, he regularly blogs on Google, Facebook. He also writes articles in English newspaper Dawn and also in some other magazines.

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