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Cyber space has multifaceted influence on international relations

Author  :  CAI CHUNLIN, CHEN YU     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2019-04-19

Since the 1990s, with the popularization of personal computers and digital mobile phones, the internet has entered a phase of rapid development. The efficiency of information transmission has been unprecedentedly improved and there have been major changes in people’s modes of social contact. International relations including those that are economic, political and military have also taken on new characteristics in the internet era. 

Shortening development gap

With the advent of the internet age, the development of information technology became an important criterion to measure a country’s comprehensive national strength. In the 1980s, the economic power of Japan and Western Europe once almost reached the level of the US. However, the US’s R&D of information technology helped its economy realize a rapid leap in the 1990s. In fact, most developed countries invested heavily at that time into the research of information technology, which led the innovation of their economic development modes. In contrast, the economically relatively backward countries lagged further behind due to their low levels of cyber information.

However, the technology gap between developed and less developed countries is shortening. The infrastructure in many less developed countries or regions has been considerably enhanced and informatization levels have continued improving. In addition, as internet technology breaks universities’ and research institutes’ long-held dominance of knowledge , it provides channels for people from every country, especially those less developed, to obtain knowledge. 

Currently, the contrast in economic power among emerging economies, developing countries and traditional developed countries has greatly changed, and internet technology is playing an immeasurable role in this. The fourth industrial revolution featuring artificial intelligence, clean energy, robot technology and quantum information technology is accelerating, and if less developed countries can capture this economic opportunity, they might grow by leaps and bounds.

Online opinion affects politics

The internet provides an important platform for the general public to express their individual political opinions, which allows ordinary people to participate in political decision-making. No government should ignore this force since it has in a substantial sense made governmental decisions more democratic, rational and transparent. As a country’s diplomatic relations and foreign policy are usually a focal point for people’s attention, public opinion can exert a major influence on a government’s foreign policy formulation and international political relations.

At the same time, online opinion, if guided and abused in a malignant way, will have an immense negative effect on international relations. As the French social psychologist Gustave Le Bon points out in his work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, after integrating into a group, the individual can easily take on characteristics such as being impulsive, fanatical and credulous. If fake information widely spreads or is misinterpreted out of context, becoming prevalent while being misleadingly vague, there will be pressure on the government and a negative social impact, which brings further side-effects to international political relations. 

The extensive application of the internet of things, big data, cloud computing and other new-generation internet technology has also bred new types of cybercrime. For example, the cost of global cybercrime reached 600 billion dollars in 2017, accounting for about 0.8 percent of the total volume of global GDP. Cybercrime has inflicted increasingly huge economic losses on the development of countries and severely affected national information security. Therefore, it is imperative that countries cooperate and tackle cybercrime in coordination, as it is in their common interest.

Cyber space shapes warfare

With the advent of the technology revolution represented by the internet, American forces have launched network-centric warfare, initiating a new military revolution. Information dominance has become the key to success. As cyber space has become the new battlefield, each country is accelerating its military transformation. The radical changes that internet technology has brought to the forms of war are exerting a major influence on international politics and military patterns.

Meanwhile, multimedia technology, combined with modern communication technology, also has a growing impact on warfare. During the Iraq War, the American forces used many high-tech news and journalism tools, reporting military strategies such as “decapitation strikes” and the “shock and awe campaign” by means of almost live broadcasts. This had a large negative effect on the morale of the Iraqi army and its people, accelerating the process of ending the war. In addition, by means of modern information technology and online transmission technology, the people’s will concerning warfare can be more easily and speedily expressed, which exercises more restraints upon warfare. 


Cai Chunlin and Chen Yu are respectively from the School of Economics and Commerce at Guangdong University of Technology and the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics.



Edited by BAI LE







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