Chinese Perspective on ‘Cyber Sovereignty’ Takes New Tack

Sovereignty as it applies to cyberspace—that’s the topic of a recent paper by Major General Hao Ye Li, once of the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army, now retired and serving as an advisor to the China Institute for Strategic Studies.

Her paper, available here on, is titled, “Unity of Opposites in Cyber Sovereignty as per Three-Perspective Theory.” It carries an introduction by John A. Davis, Major General, U.S. Army (Retired), and Vice President, Chief Security Officer (Federal), at Palo Alto Networks.

Davis writes that General Hao’s paper “reflects an evolution in China’s thinking about the topic of sovereignty as it applies to cyberspace.” This new view of cyberspace includes three perspectives: the nation, the citizens, and the international community.  According to Davis, Hao argues for “a more inclusive view of the multiple parties and stakeholders involved in the cyberspace environment.”

The retired Major General finds interest in Hao’s evolving views about sovereignty, suggesting that “a nation’s core interests and control over the cyber environment has significant limits and must be balanced with the interests of the international community and individual citizens.” What this does, said Davis, is contribute to a more inclusive, balanced, and stable description of cyber sovereignty, resulting in “a much more realistic direction in thought than I had ever experienced in all of my previous interactions with China while serving in the military and government.”

International implications

In an exclusive interview with Security Roundtable, Davis discussed the implications of this changing international environment for business: “The professional cybersecurity community would be wise to pay close attention to the evolving views about what the concept of sovereignty—as applied to the cyberspace environment—means to countries such as China,” he said. “This is especially true for senior leaders across governments, C-suites, and boardrooms, because of the very real and practical impact these views can have, not only on issues such as privacy and civil liberties, but others, as well, such as public safety, economic security, and even national and international security.”

Davis went on to note that Hao is a leading academic expert and thought leader for her country, and that, while they might not agree completely about all of these issues, they both believe a continuing, direct and transparent discussion is vital for building more trust and avoiding misperceptions that can lead to instability and even conflict.

Finally, Davis—who clearly points out that the views he espouses about the paper and cyber sovereignty are his and his alone—observed that there is one item missing from Hao’s observations: “the ‘glue’ that connects each of the three perspectives [the nation, the citizens, and the international community] is represented by the global private sector.”

“On a positive note,” said Davis, “Hao and I also believe that our countries actually have some very important issues of common interest. This is where we intend to focus our efforts, and giving my former counterpart a platform to share her interesting views about sovereignty in cyberspace on the Security Roundtable website is a great way to keep this important discussion going. ”

He concluded by encouraging a “continuing evolution toward a more inclusive, flexible, and participatory view of sovereignty as it applies to cyberspace.”

Davis’s full introduction and Hao’s complete paper are available here.