Tuesday, May 10, 2022

[FNF | 天下] Taiwan can be East Asia’s New Internet and Data Hub | 亞洲最新的網際網路及數據樞紐?台灣能!

Taiwan can be East Asia’s New Internet and Data Hub

In the second half of April, Taiwan scored two major wins in consolidating its regional and global positions in digital future and data trade within a week’s time, with relatively little fanfare or local attention. Is Taiwan on the verge of a golden opportunity to transform its economy, yet without its broader business, industrial and political communities knowing its own full potential?

On April 28, 2022, the United States and “sixty partners around the world” together launched the Declaration for the Future of the Internet. Taiwan was among these partners, which included the European Commission and governments from all over the world, and the U.S. itself. As the signatories of the declaration were in effect all governments, the diplomatic choice to use the word “partners” instead of “countries” was clearly made for including Taiwan.

As a matter of background information, the concept for an Alliance for the Future of the Internet was floated by the U.S. White House shortly before the end of 2021, and was intended to be announced at the Summit for Democracy in early December. However, the plan faced pushback from the digital rights as well as technology business communities and was criticised for being merely an extension of the Trump administration’s “Clean Network” initiative, for alliance member countries to pledge to “use only trustworthy providers” in core Internet infrastructure, which makes the alliance a “no-China” club but lacks focus for the global Internet to adhere to democratic, human rights and accessibility values. Civil societies and Internet companies also felt left out of the process and without a seat at the table.

Taiwan has a place in the future of the Internet

As a result, days before the Summit for Democracy was to commence, the announcement of the alliance was delayed, until now. The April 28 announcement of the declaration takes on somewhat of a looser form compared to an alliance of national and territorial governments. The declaration itself also adjusted its focus to a more principles-driven vision for the Internet based on human rights and fundamental freedoms including expression and pluralism, increased access and affordability, safety and privacy, fair competition, and a trusted and secure infrastructure. Also, likely as a response to the more recent “splinternet” controversy that arose out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the declaration emphasised a global Internet and the need to refrain from shutdowns, blocking lawful content and services, and free data flows.

But the declaration is still significant in many ways, and may represent the prelude to a series of international lobbying in preparation for the important election of the next secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the technical body under the United Nations (U.N.) in charge of the world’s telecom standards and regulations, where a Russian candidate and and a U.S. candidate will face off later this year. With China and Russia “fully cooperating” to try not only to dominate the ITU but also to wrestle away global Internet governance from the multistakeholder ICANN to the ITU — and hence the hands of national governments — the signatories may represent one of the most visible actions to date to counter the efforts of China and Russia.

Even though Taiwan is not a member of the U.N. nor the ITU, the inclusion of Taiwan among the democratic allies and their effort to “reclaim the promise of the Internet,” as described in the declaration, is symbolic and significant. It is also important to note that, despite the U.S.’s emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region in recent years, the declaration was endorsed by relatively few Asia Pacific partners, with only Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Taiwan, and Pacific islands such as Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau, with major Asian countries and technology leaders such as India, South Korea and Singapore notably missing. That makes Taiwan stand out even more.

However, the news of Taiwan’s inclusion in the U.S.-led declaration apparently only received relatively limited press coverage in Taiwan, with the attention placed on digital minister Audrey Tang representing the government in the online signing ceremony with other global partners, repeating the rather plainly worded Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release and with little commentary or analysis on any of its importance.

A seat at the table in setting global data rules

Similarly, a week before the announcement of the Declaration for the Future of the Internet, Taiwan became a member of the Global Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) Forum, on April 21, 2022, along with Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and the U.S., this time under the name of “Chinese Taipei.” In the statement from U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the Forum “intends to establish the Global Cross Border Privacy Rules and Privacy Recognition Processors (PRP) Systems, first-of-their-kind data privacy certifications that help companies demonstrate compliance with internationally recognised data privacy standards.” The “APEC CBPR” System will facilitate and establishment the framework for and promote mutual recognition and trusted international data flows.

Again, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a press release, stating that its inclusion on the Forum will have a positive impact on “international cooperation on privacy protection and cross-border digital trade development.” Indeed, the potentials for Taiwan can go way beyond this general description.

In recent years, the U.S. and the E.U. have been embroiled in a longstanding dispute about data transfers, not the least because the E.U. has led by setting up very comprehensive privacy and data protection laws, while the U.S. has not. Recently in March 2022, however, the U.S. and E.U. finally entered into a data transfer agreement. Meanwhile, earlier in June, 2021, China’s Data Security Law also came into effect, enabling a comprehensive regulatory regime for its data and security governance, including data sovereignty and requirements for local storage, with a focus on national security. Data may be the new oil, but without the pipelines and the agreements on how to transfer and exchange these data, the full economic potentials will not be realised.

In Asia, there is no comprehensive region-wise data and privacy framework, like the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the regulatory regimes in countries and territories can vary greatly, if they exist. The U.S.’s CBPR initiative is obviously an attempt to counter China’s influence and to take leadership to emphasise on data transfers and related business opportunities, while the Chinese regulations tends to focus more on forcing companies to keep data within China. As such, Taiwan can play a critical role.

Taiwan can fill the void left by Hong Kong

In recent years, Taiwan has made headways in its Internet infrastructure and established a respectable regional presence. Major U.S. technology giants such as Google and Meta have chosen Taiwan to host their regional datacenters, along with Singapore, but instead of Hong Kong. When Google and Meta jointly invested to build what would have been the first direct trans-Pacific undersea cable — the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) — between California and Hong Kong, and the U.S. government eventually refused to allow the PCLN to reach Hong Kong, Google and Meta had to revise their proposal to have the PCLN terminate in Taiwan instead in order to receive the license approval from the U.S. In the PLCN “national security agreement” between Google and Meta with the U.S. government, the investors agreed to “pursue diversification of interconnection points in Asia, including but not limited to Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.” That could very well mean connecting to these countries from Taiwan.

In other words, Taiwan is poised to take over at least part of the role of the region’s telecommunications and Internet hub vacated by Hong Kong, as the latter’s position has been compromised since the implementation of the National Security Law from Beijing in 2020, and the subsequent political crackdowns, followed by various U.S. sanctions. While Taiwan will not be able to displace Hong Kong interconnection role into the mainland and the Greater Bay Area, it has a good chance of taking over some of the regional and international traffic and data flows in East and Southeast Asia, especially new growth in demands, because the non-China international capacity of Hong Kong will grow much more slowly than before, if at all, in the foreseeable future.

This may be a perfect opportunity for Taiwan to set its goal to become the regional Internet, data and technology service hub for East Asia, like Singapore for Southeast Asia. For years, Taiwan has been trying to diversify its industrial base and its reliance on the semiconductor, electronics and manufacturing sectors. Even though Taiwan’s prospects for its semiconductor industry still look great, it is always smarter to spread the eggs in more baskets during good times.

Next Steps for Taiwan - What should Taiwan do ?

I humbly suggest the following for Taiwan to upgrade its grand vision, soft infrastructure and skills base:

1. Establish Taiwan’s digital economy strategy, covering all aspects of government and industry digital transformation, attracting foreign investment and supporting research and development, as well as education and manpower development, and let the world know Taiwan is more than about semiconductor and electronics.

2. Update its legal and regulatory regimes on data and privacy protection as well as  telecommunications with a view to liberalise and attract international investment and more data and services exchange with other Asia Pacific economies, and also to catch up  with data and privacy regulations in Europe and other leading countries.

3. Double down on the effort to develop the telecommunications and Internet sector, leveraging on inroads already made in datacenters and infrastructure, attract more investment and expand regional connectivity and capacity with its East Asian neighbours such as Japan and South Korea, as well as the U.S.

4. Learn from the Singapore playbook and negotiate bilateral agreements on digital trade and data transfers with other countries, similar to Singapore’s proposed pact with the U.K. Again, as it is unlikely for Hong Kong to enter into data trade agreements with leading western economies in the near future, Taiwan is well placed to take over.

There is no need to abandon what Taiwan has been doing well, but this is the best chance for it to expand and diversify into new areas of economic growth, that would not only greatly benefit Taiwan but also offer the opportunities for its allies to help, support and bolster its regional strategic and economic importance. That can truly be a win-win situation.

Published: Friedrich Naumann Foundation, May 3 2022

https://www.freiheit.org/taiwan/taiwan-can-be-east-asias-new-internet-and-data-hub

German: https://www.freiheit.org/de/taiwan/taiwan-kann-ostasiens-neuer-internet-und-daten-hub-werden

Chinese: https://www.freiheit.org/zh/taiwan/yazhouzuixindewangjiwanglujishujuzhongxintaiwanchongmanqianli

Also published on CommonWealth Magazine, May 5 2022 (English)
https://english.cw.com.tw/article/article.action?id=3219

亞洲最新的網際網路及數據樞紐?台灣能!

4月下旬,台灣在短短一星期內,連續簽署了兩項對數位未來影響深遠的重要國際協議。然而,本土的政經及工商界,是否看到台灣的潛力,和經濟轉型的黃金機會?

4月28日,美國白宮宣布與全球60個「伙伴」共同簽署「未來網際網路宣⾔」,包括台灣、歐盟各成員國等。

早於半年多前,當美國總統拜登政府還在籌備12月的線上民主峰會時,已計劃在峰會上宣布成立「未來網際網路聯盟」。然而消息一出,卻遭受各方質疑和批評。無論是數位人權組織或科技企業,都察覺到這個聯盟似乎只局限於川普總統時期的「乾淨網路計畫」(Clean Network),要求盟友保證在其網路基礎建設內只會使用可信的技術供應商。換句話說,除了籠統地承諾不使用來自中國的產品,這個聯盟並未聚焦網際網路發展的重要價值觀,包括民主、人權等;加上公民社會團體和網路企業都未能直接參與,私底下都表示不滿。

台灣於未來網際網路佔一席位

結果,聯盟在民主峰會舉行前數天被暫時擱置,現在則變身為宣言,雖然在觀感和實際上都被稍為「降格」,但宣言內容的確變得更以價值為本,明確宣示支持人權、言論等基本自由,以及多元、近用、安全、隱私、公平競爭、可信的基礎建設。另外,也許由於近期俄羅斯入侵烏克蘭,引發分裂和網路審查的爭議,宣言強調各國必須保障全球一致的網路,避免關閉網路或阻截合法內容服務,確保自由數據流通。

宣言的重要性,除了內容上的承諾,還在於簽署者對於全球網際網路治理的立場宣示。畢竟中國與俄羅斯已經在國際技術標準和網路治理上宣布「全面合作」,年底前將舉行的國際電信聯盟秘書長選舉,由美、俄兩國代表出選,兩陣正面交鋒;加上多年來中、俄兩國和其盟友對執掌網際網路治理的ICANN組織多番批評,企圖把治理權轉到以國家政府控制的國際電信聯盟。面對極權國家推銷的全方位治理審查模式,「未來網際網路宣⾔」為民主世界作出抗衡,共同踏出的重要一步。

台灣成為這個要「重奪網際網路的期許」宣言一分子,極具象徵意義及重要性。然而,即使美國過去多年以發展亞洲地區策略為目標,本宣言中的亞洲簽署者,除了台灣外只有澳洲、日本、紐西蘭,和三個太平洋小島國,一些重要的亞洲科技強國如印度、南韓和新加坡都未參與。以此角度看,台灣的重要性就更突出了。

不過,「未來網際網路宣⾔」在台灣似乎未得到太多重視,僅外交部發出新聞稿、媒體依稿報導,並由行政院政務委員唐鳳代表在線上出席宣言發布活動,未有更深入的分析。

台灣可進軍國際數據新經濟

在宣言發布前七天,台灣以創始會員身分加入由美國領導、美國商務部長Gina Raimondo宣布成立的「全球跨境隱私規則論壇」(Global Cross-Border Privacy Rules Forum,GCPR),成員包括加拿大、日本、菲律賓、新加坡、南韓、美國及台灣;而論壇的目的包括建立首個數據私隱認可機制,讓企業能藉以顯示自己已遵從國際數據私隱要求,便利各地互認機制,容許國際數據交換及轉移。

跨境數據轉移近年來成為美國與歐盟之間的長期爭議點。歐盟的隱私及數據保障法規成熟,而美國則頗為落後,甚至可說是真空。今年3月,美、歐才剛達成數據轉移的協議。另一邊廂,中國於2021年6月開始執行《數據安全法》,全面監管數據,尤其於數據上注入國家安全元素要求,令國際數據轉移更為複雜和困難。在國家單位面前,企業數據或個人資料的隱私更難以確保。

相比歐盟較成熟的數據隱私保障,亞洲各國的相關法律原則和條文都差距甚遠。因此,美國主導論壇的目的,是要在亞洲區內阻擋中國數據監管模式的影響和擴散,並爭取領導亞洲地區與數據相關的商業機會。再一次,台灣能在此佔有關鍵角色。

台灣接收香港對外樞紐的角色

近年來台灣於網際網路基礎建設有長足發展,美國龍頭科技企業谷歌和Meta都在台灣建立大型數據中心,與新加坡看齊,超越了香港。去年底美國當局正式批准由谷歌和Meta共同投資的跨太平洋海底電纜PLCN,終點從香港改為台灣,反映美國基於「國家安全」考慮,短期內可能不會批准任何有美國投資的海纜光纖接駁至香港。此消彼長下,台灣的網際網路樞紐地位得到重要支持。

事實上,美國政府與PLCN投資者達成的「國家安全協議」中,投資者同意以此基礎加強區內連繫,包括連接至印尼、菲律賓、泰國、新加坡及越南等,換言之,就是要台灣成為連接東南亞的樞紐。

自從香港於2020年實施《國家安全法》,面臨美國制裁、企業信心流失和營商環境急劇惡化,短期內實在難見轉機。即使台灣不可能取代香港對中國內地和鄰近大灣區的對內小樞紐地位,要挑戰香港的國際電訊及網際網路的對外大樞紐地位,尤其在新增容量及區域需求上,形勢甚佳。

因此,台灣正面臨發展成東亞地區國際數據及科技服務樞紐的最佳時機,有如東南亞地區的新加坡。台灣一直有意做經濟轉型,把現時以半導體、電子及工業行業帶動的科技經濟,發展得更多元化。台灣可以怎麼做?愚見認為,以下四點有助強化台灣的願景、提升基礎建設和人才技能:

構建台灣的數位經濟發展策略,推動全方位政府及工商業的數位轉型,引進外來對科技的投資,加強研發、教育及人才發展,並讓全世界都看到,台灣除了半導體、電子產業外,在網際網路產業以至數據經濟上,都在爭取成為區域樞紐。

更新數據和隱私在法律與監管架構上的保障,追上全球最先進的個資數據法律框架,並開放電訊規管,吸引國際投資,特別是亞太區域各國的合作和數據交易商機。

加強支援電訊及網際網路行業,在近年數據中心及網路基礎的發展上,擴展與其他東亞鄰近國家的連繫,特別是日本、南韓甚至美國等主要科技經濟體。

參考新加坡的策略,針對全球重要經濟強國成立數位貿易及數據轉移協議,例如新加坡與英國兩國建議中的協議。正因香港於可見的未來都無法與主要西方經濟體達成數位貿易的雙邊協議,機會將會傾向台灣這一方。

如果台灣能把握機會,利用數據新經濟創出發展新方向,不只能為己方帶動經濟新機,亦能在盟友國家協作和支援下,強化台灣於亞洲區內的策略性經濟地位,必然同時有助自身的地緣政治上的穩定。

(作者曾任香港立法會資訊科技界議員,現任美國史丹福大學全球數位政策中心訪問學者。)

Published: 獨立評論 @天下 on May 9 2022 

https://opinion.cw.com.tw/blog/profile/515/article/12256

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