The effect of Chinese government policy on transnational internet standard-setting

With Thomas Winzen: Does Chinese government policy influence private participation in transnational internet governance?

Most research on China’s role in internet governance focuses on intergovernmental arenas, but much internet governance takes place in transnational arenas such as standard development organizations (SDO). It is possible that factors other than Chinese government policy, such as economic development and institutional constraints, influence these arenas more than government policy. In contrast, we argue that government policy has a strong enabling effect on private actor participation in internet SDOs. Yet, due to the low salience of these arenas for core interests of the Chinese regime, we also expect that Chinese actors will operate mostly free from government constraints and will thus integrate relatively seamlessly into the standardization networks of internet SDOs. We test this argument based on novel data on five decades of standards authorship and networks in a major internet SDO, the Internet Engineering Task Force. Utilizing generalized synthetic controls, we examine how Chinese participation in the IETF changed following a significant shift in government policy on technology and internet governance around 2002 and compare this to a synthetic counterfactual scenario. We find that changing government policy strongly increased Chinese actors’, specifically companies’, participation. We also show that Chinese actors integrate into the IETF standardization network in a similar way as actors from Europe or the United States. Our findings contribute to debates on the effect of the rise of China on global governance, transnational governance participation from autocratic states, and the link between government policy and transnational governance.